Lake Erie's May Smallmouth Bonanza!

Now's the time to go for some of the year's best smallmouth bass fishing. This world-class bronzeback fishery offers great action from shore or boat. Our expert has the story. (May 2007)

Photo by Tom Berg

There's absolutely no better time to be on Lake Erie than when the lake's spring run of overweight smallmouths begin moving into the shallows to prepare for their annual spawn.

As any bass angler knows, Lake Erie is one of the world's most productive bodies of water when it comes to catching numbers of big bass.

A closed season remains in effect from May 1 through June 23, during which all black bass (both smallmouths and largemouths) must be released immediately. After June 23, the daily bag limit is five fish, with a 14-inch minimum-length limit.

Lake Erie is an amazing body of water. It borders not only New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, but also includes an international partner in the mix: Canada.

OHIO

Mark Turner, a fisheries biologist with Ohio's Department of Natural Resources, said that 2007 should be a great year for fishermen.

The shoreline of Lake Erie is every angler's bread and butter. Areas to target in the Ohio region include the Lake Erie islands, the western basin reef complex, Sandusky Bay, Ruggles Reef and harbor break walls from Lorain to Conneaut.

Turner said that when fishing for smallmouths, the islands are always a good choice, as is the mainland coastline.

Travis Hartman, another fisheries biologist, with the ODNR agreed:

"The best areas in western Lake Erie are the Camp Perry reef complex; the shorelines of the Bass Islands; west reef; the Gull Island shoal, the Kelleys Island shoals; the Kelleys Island shoreline including the airport reef; and the Catawba, Marblehead and Cedar Point shorelines. East of Huron, the Ruggles Reef area is a near-shore hotspot."

The Ohio section of Lake Erie is a strong draw for tournament anglers, and some nice fish are caught each season.

"We picked up a lot of young smallmouths in our samplings this year, which is good news for the future," Turner said. "And we still expect to see good fishing this year."

As with all of Lake Erie, the key to finding fish is location. Work slowly over dropoffs, long flats and wherever baitfish can be found.

The late-spring frenzy requires a little effort and understanding of which lures to use, and when.

Drop-shot rigs are deadly once the fish are found. Because Lake Erie has been inundated with gobies, lures that mimic them can produce some amazing results. Another sure-fire way to catch smallies is to use crayfish or their imitations. Smallmouths gorge themselves on these crustaceans at every opportunity.

In addition to live bait, tube jigs should be part of every Lake Erie angler's repertoire. Experiment with different colors and sizes until the fish reveal their preference with rod-bending strikes.

At this time of year, smallmouths are extremely aggressive, which means only one thing -- crankbaits. Depending on where you are on the lake, these can produce some amazing results.

One thing to remember is that bronzebacks like noise. Smallmouths are inquisitive by nature, so if you've run past them a lure that makes some noise, they'll come to investigate.

For more information on lodging and tourism, contact the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism at 1-800- BUCKEYE. You can hear a general Lake Erie fishing report at 1-888- HOOK-

FISH.

Live-bait fishermen use crayfish, leeches and minnows bounced along the bottom, easily producing 50 to 75 fish per man, per day.

One of the best launches to use is the Shelby Street boat launch at 101 Shelby Street in Sandusky. This launch, operated by the city of Sandusky, costs $5 per day.

Check the ODNR's Web site at OhioDnr.com for regulations, as well as information on where to go to enjoy this fantastic smallmouth fishery.

PENNSYLVANIA

At this time of year, Keystone State anglers can enjoy some of the best waters for smallmouths anywhere in the East.

Spring smallmouth bass fishing here is rated as among the best in the country. In early to late spring, smallmouths may be caught along the shoreline as they prepare for their spring spawn. Tube jigs, drop-shot rigs and crankbaits are deadly. Live-bait fishermen use crayfish, leeches and minnows bounced along the bottom, easily producing 50 to 75 fish per man, per day.

Walnut Creek Marina, Presque Isle Bay and Safe Harbor Marina are the primary destinations for launching boats at this time of year.

Pennsylvania's Lake Erie smallmouths love rocky bottoms. Some of the best habitat of this type can be found off the Keystone State's shores. Find steep dropoffs with rocks or crushed stone, and you'll find some smallmouths.

Generally, the fishing will get incrementally better as spring turns into summer. Early May will be productive, but once the water begins to warm, the fish really turn on. Target depths between 10 and 25 feet of water. Start presenting lures and baits at 15 feet and work them up or down, as the fishing dictates.

Todd McDermot has been fishing for smallmouths on Lake Erie for almost 25 years. He believes there's no better bass fishery in the East for numbers or size.

"In early to mid-May, the bronzebacks really start coming in once we get the water to warm up," he said.

"The good thing is, you don't have to fish miles from shore to get into them. We generally stay in the 10- to 15-foot range and work the trolling motor over and around structure."

Even seasoned angler like McDermot may not always find the fish cooperative. When things slow down, he recommends changing lures and locations.

"Some days we'll have great luck with tube jigs. And other days, they won't even budge. Usually, the majority of our action comes from drop-shot rigs, and we rely a lot on live crayfish fished along the bottom as realistically as possible."

McDermot's favorite spot when fishing

out of Presque Isle Bay is off shore about 3.5 miles east, where there are some cement pylons about one-half mile from shore. It's not uncommon to see a flotilla of boats in this area. Locals know that the fish stage here for the spawn and beyond.

"The key," McDermot said, "is to work out deeper until you can locate them."

For more information on Presque Isle State Park, contact the marina office (seasonal) at (814) 833-0176, or at (814) 833-8981.

Additional information may be obtained by contacting the Erie Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-524-3743 or (814) 454-7191; or try VisitEiriePa.com

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