Smallmouth hunting on Lake Erie

ERIE, Pa. — Only a few short hours north of almost anywhere in West Virginia lies a body of water larger than the entire Mountain State and flush with some of the best fishing in America. Anglers from the state, particularly bass fishermen, schedule at least a few days each spring to hit Lake Erie for what can be some of the most incredible fishing for smallmouth bass anywhere in the nation.

Ed Powell of Elizabeth, W.Va. is one of those who has made an annual trek to places like Presque Isle Bay in Pennsylvania to catch the pilgrimage of the large smallmouth bass when they make their annual spawning run into the shallow waters of the embayment from the main lake depths.

“They winter out there and spend the summers out there, but for two magical months these smallmouth flock into this bay, as well as others. When they come, they come. It really concentrates them and brings large numbers of fish into these shallow waters for spawning,” said Powell.

During a recent visit to the Presque Isle Bay, Powell explained spending time on the water searching for rock piles, boulders, or underwater anomalies which will attract bass. Most anglers who have scouted the region have a large collection of GPS waypoints to navigate to those kind of underwater structure which will hold fish.

The author with a five pound smallmouth caught from Lake Erie on a windy day of fishing on the main lake.

“This time of year they really relate to current breaks. If you can find any kind of funnel or point, they’ll be around. There’s also a channel between the main lake and the bay which is normally lights out. Any kind of pinch points which can concentrate these fish as they are moving into the bay from the main lake and they are eating the whole way,” he said.

Powell related in past years, the channel between the bay and the main lake was so good, he and friends have in the past grown tired of catching two-plus pound smallmouth bass. That wasn’t quite the case on our two days on the water, which Powell was at a loss to explain. But, that’s fishing.

Using his collection of known spots and contour lines on the main lake we were able to find some success. Between three of us, we caught three smallmouth over four pounds and one over five pounds which can be a rare treat. Even larger smallmouth bass are also not out of the question on a good day of fishing on this amazing body of water.

“We used to joke the smallmouth here are born weighing two pounds. It’s more common to catch one that weighs four pounds than a ten incher, which is hard to imagine, but it’s the truth,” he explained.


Matt Meyers of Elizabeth, W.Va. with a four pound plus smallmouth bass from Lake Erie.

The sheer volume of fish in the water kicks up a feeding frenzy. It’s also difficult for fishing pressure to have an negative impact simply because of the numbers. Even with a large number of boats fan casting the waters of the bay and near the mouth to the main lake, the steady stream of new fish moving into the spawning grounds is so large it’s doubtful you’ll cast to the same fish twice.

Rigging for the Lake Erie smallmouth has several different options. Texas rigged soft plastics like a tube bait are often effective. Other lures which require a bit more finesse like a drop-shot rig or Ned rig are also extremely effective. Powell said experience has taught him to realize what the mainstay diet for those Erie smallmouth will be year in and year out.

“Emerald shiners are big and obviously out on the lake gobies have really caused growth rates to go through the roof. They’ll still eat some crawdads and other typical smallmouth forage, but normally the emerald shiners and gobies are the main forage for smallmouth,” he said.

Erie, Pennsylvania, which sits on Presque Isle Bay, is about a five to six hour trip from the Kanawha Valley up I-77. The location is even closer for those in northern West Virginia who cam make it before the sun is fully broken with an early start up I-79.

“They like to eat and when theses northern smallmouth have a small window to eat, so when temperatures and conditions are right, they’re not hard to get to bite,” he said.

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