Lake Erie'™s May Smallmouth Bonanza!

Lake Erie's famed smallmouth angling gets into high gear this month. For shore and boat anglers in Ohio and Pennsylvania, opportunities abound. Here's how to get in on some world-class fishing right now! (May 2008)

Photo by Tim Holschlag.

Smallmouth bass fishing along the Ohio and Pennsylvania coastline of Lake Erie during May and into early June is something that every fisherman should experience at least once. It is the best smallmouth bass fishing in the world, and now is the best time to do it. Experience it once, and it will almost certainly become your annual pilgrimage.

Great smallmouth bass fishing may be had along the lakeshore in both states. But of course some places are better than others. Strategic to locating the best smallmouth bass fishing is finding the right kind of bottom structure -- generally, a bottom covered by rocky rubble with irregular depths. Look for humps and dropoffs. Look where the bottom is composed of rocks of various sizes and shapes, as opposed to featureless flat shale or a soft bottom. Also focus on rocky reefs or manmade structures.Typically, depths for the hottest spring fishing will vary, from as shallow as five feet out to about 35 feet.

In Ohio's portion of Lake Erie, it is illegal to keep bass from May 1 through June 29.

"You are still allowed to fish for them," said Kevin Kayle, an aquatic biology supervisor at the Fairport Fisheries Station.

In 2004, spring bass harvests were stopped in the Ohio portion of Lake Erie out of concern of overharvest. Since that time, the smallmouth bass population has been doing well, and one particularly good year-class has shown an excellent growth rate.

It was once feared that round gobies -- an exotic species introduced in the ballasts of ocean-going ships -- would destroy the smallmouth population. Now research has shown that gobies are the primary forage for smallmouth bass in Lake Erie. Once the bass grow large enough to eat round gobies, their growth spurts.

Ohio has by far the larger portion of Lake Erie, including most of the western basin and the central basin.

The western basin, shallowest of Lake Erie's three basins, extends west from the Sandusky area. Very little of this water is deeper than 30 feet. To the west of Sandusky is Marblehead. There is good smallmouth structure around this big peninsula.

"To the west," said Kayle, referring to the western basin, "you're going to be fishing the area around the islands.

He specifically mentioned the famed and very appropriately named Bass islands. But there are numerous other islands in the western basin. One of the nicest things that islands do for smallmouth bass is create more shoreline, thus providing them a lot of excellent habitat.

Bottom structure around the islands tends to be rocky. There are numerous reefs in this area that do not break the water's surface, providing more great smallmouth bass habitat.

Fishing tactics can be more diverse in the western basin than in most other portions of the lake because of the shallower water. If you want to catch smallmouth bass on crankbaits, this is likely the place to do it, though most serious smallmouth bass fishermen tend to use jigs.

To pursue smallmouths in the western basin, fishermen launch from ramps at Metzger's Marsh, Mazurik, East Harbor, Catawba, Dempsey and Turtle Creek -- all state-owned facilities.

Smallmouth bass are abundant in the fertile water of the western basin, but there are not as many smallmouths over 21 inches in this area. Most of the biggest Lake Erie smallmouth bass come out of the central basin or from the eastern basin.

"They've got cooler water that they can get into in the summer," Kayle noted.

The central basin includes a vast area roughly from Sandusky, Ohio, eastward to Erie, Pa. This water is deeper than the western basin and has large areas with relatively little ideal smallmouth bass habitat.

Smallmouth bass fishing hotspots suggested by Kayle include Ruggles Reef near Vermilion, Lorain, the Cleveland Stadium Reef and any structure from Fairport to Conneaut. The latter area may be your best bet for the biggest smallmouths in the Ohio portion of Lake Erie.

Popular launching locations for smallmouth bass fishermen in the central basin include the municipal or state ramps at Vermilion, Lorain, Edgewater, Fairport Harbor, Geneva, Ashtabula's Lakeshore Park and Conneaut.

A lot of the good smallmouth bass fishing in the central basin occurs near artificial reefs. Ohio State University conducted research showing that reefs can concentrate fish as much as 60 times more than in non-reef areas. Several large artificial reefs made of clean concrete and rock rubble, built by the Ohio State University Sea Grant Program, can be found near Lorain Harbor.

These reefs are situated about a mile west of Lorain Harbor in depths around 28 feet. They extend to within about 15 feet of the surface.

Vertical jigging around the reefs can be very effective. If the wind is moving in the right direction, drift-fishing is an excellent method.

There is access in downtown Lorain at the Municipal Pier Boat Ramp on Lorain Harbor. Information about this area is available from the Lorain County Visitors Bureau, 8025 Leavitt Road, Amherst, OH 44001. Or phone 1-800-334-1673, or log on to the agency's Web site at .

Fishermen who are unfamiliar with Lake Erie should consider hiring a guide, at least on their first trip.

For details on regulations, access locations and more about fishing Ohio's section of Lake Erie, contact Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, 2045 Morse Road, Building G, Columbus, OH 43229-6693. Or you can phone 1-800-WILDLIFE. Their Web site is .

When fishing Lake Erie's smallmouths from the Pennsylvania side, the daily creel limit is four bass, combined species, with a minimum length of 15 inches from Jan. 1 through mid-April and from mid-June through Dec. 31. From mid-April through mid-June, the daily creel limit is one bass, with a minimum length of 20 inches.

See the regulatio

ns summary for specific dates.

The best smallmouth bass fishing in Pennsylvania is roughly from Presque Isle Bay eastward to the New York border. This is the start of the eastern basin, which includes the deepest water in Lake Erie. Bottom structure here tends to be mostly rocks.

Presque Isle Bay is where the action starts. Depending on weather patterns, there may be good fishing here as early as April. This is a good place to get acquainted with Lake Erie's smallmouths because even though the water can get rough, it's not quite as treacherous as the main part of the lake.

Diverse fishing methods can be used here because the best fishing may be in the shallower water. Jigs are still the most popular lures.

Concentrate your efforts in the eastern half of the bay. One popular area is between the entrance to Marina Lake and the mouth of the bay. Look for humps and other structure.

Several launching areas around the bay are accessible from Bayfront Parkway or from Presque Isle State Park.

In and around the city of Erie, there are plenty of accommodations for visiting fishermen. Get more information by contacting the Erie Tourist and Convention Bureau, 109 Boston Store Place, Erie, PA 16501.

Call 1-800-524-3749; or log on to .

North East Marina, a Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission facility off state Route 5 near the town of North East, provides good access to some of the best smallmouth bass fishing on the east side of the city of Erie. Hotspots include the water off the mouths of Twentymile Creek and Sixteenmile Creek, and at many places adjacent to the cliffs that extend westward from Sixteenmile Creek.

Most serious smallmouth bass fishermen stick with artificial lures. Probably the most popular lure for spring smallmouth fishing throughout the lake is the tube jig. It's hard to go wrong as long as you keep your lures close to the bottom.

Extensive U.S. Coast Guard regulations apply to boaters in addition to state regulations. This is big water, and conditions can change very quickly. Always be aware of weather forecasts and carry a weather radio for immediate weather information.

For more information -- including the latest regulations for Pennsylvania -- contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, 1601 Elmerton Avenue, P.O. Box 67000, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000. Phone (717) 705-7800, or log onto the agency's Web site at

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