Fall normally means the beginning of football season. To the Lake Erie bass angler it means jumbo-size, `football' shaped smallmouth bass. August to late October/November is when Lake Erie's fat-n-sassy bronzebacks begin to put on the feed bag and begin to stock up for winter. Now is the time to catch one of the lake's best game fish and certainly regarded by many as Erie's best battlers.
With the unexpected introduction of the Zebra Muscle in the late 80's, the Lake Erie Smallmouth Bass really took off into something just short of spectacular. With the cleaner and clearer water resulting from the zebra muscles, bass will encounter with a vengeance any preferred bait when presentedcorrectly. Tip: Smallmouth bass are generally sight feeders. Which means once the bass visualize it's prey, it will attack and devour. Unlike Lake Erie walleyes, smallmouth generally are not boat shy and are not bothered bysunlight. This makes them an accommodating and easy target when located in both shallow and deep water most any time of the day.
Catching Lake Erie Smallmouth Bass takes nothing more then a bait box of soft-shell crayfish, a bucket of minnows, leeches, or a tackle box of properly selected artificial's (tube baits, crankbaits, spinners, etc.). While you can anticipate summer walleyes to roam the open, deep water flats, smallmouth preferhard structure. Bass in most cases are easy to locate. If you can find rocks,you'll find smallmouth.
Tip: A little pre-planning with a lake chart, a couple minutes of questions at the bait shop, or simply book a charter and pick your captain's brain for information, will remendously add to your success. Remember to always have a game plan whensmallmouth or "Jumper" fishing.
Some great areas to begin searching for fall Smallmouth Bass would be around the famous Bass Islands, Kelley's Island, Ruggles Beach off Huron, and of course the angler's choice at Pelee Island in Ontario waters. Tip: Remember whenlocating bass they are territorial fish. Smallmouth rarely roam open waters and will not migrate twenty miles like walleyes do each fall. When the bass move, they tend go deeper or even shallower around their home! If you find structure that is good for bass, expect to find them in the neighborhood again and again within close proximity on your next trip or even next season. If you locate a prime bass spot mark it with your Loran/GPS, landmarks or a means that will allow you to return another day. Good smallmouth spots aren't here today, gonetomorrow like walleyes! Keep in mind you'll not want to tell other serious bass anglers!
Once you have located a suspected prime bass hide-out, where do you begin? You have to decide if your going to anchor or drift. Drifting is preferred and you can drift with any bait that can be presented to a hungry smallmouth bass. If it's to windy in the area your fishing or your boat drifts so fast to properly present your bait, anchor safely at your spot and fish your areathoroughly. To cover more water while anchored, occasionally release or bring in anchor line. It's best either to fish shallow then move out to deeper water or deeper to shallow water, never in-between. This important step allows you towork over areas to eliminate unproductive waters. Tip: There is never any water to shallow or to deep for smallmouth. Any day of the fall season smallmouth could be found in any depth ranging from a shallow 8ft. to a deep 30ft. or at adepth in-between. Locate a good school of bass and to duplicate the drift each time, drop a marker at the beginning and at the end of your drift. This will keep you in preferred water and allow you to be more productive.
Markers or floats that are visible to boats are like a blue-light special. They tend to attract alot of people looking for a bargain or your easy fish! Tip: When in a crowd or around unwanted uncourteous anglers is to use your Loran/GPS to mark your spot when you reset your drift.
When fishing live bait such as soft-shelled crayfish, minnows, or leeches, you'll need proper hooks and have sinkers of various weights. Use of a sharp #1 to #4 hooks are the most common. Due to the rocky structure and occasional snags, wire hooks work best. The type of weight you use is optional. Slipsinkers, wrap around sinkers, and rubber core sinkers all work well. Placement of the weight should be 12" to 18" minimum above the bait for best results. Tip: Use only enough weight to keep the bait near the bottom. To big of weight for the conditions will result in lost strikes from the fish feeling theweight and dropping the bait before the hook set.
To avoid loosing bait to snags and bottom, drop your baited offering over the side of the boat until you feel bottom, shut the reel and simply fish. Remember, smallmouth are not boat shy! You'll often catch them right under your driftingboat! Occasionally lift and lower the bait to allow for extra movement similar to perch fishing. Wait for the pickup, feel the weight of the fish for a second, and set the hook! Tip: When using live bait, don't set the hook to hard. Inother words, don't use what I refer to as the "Bassmaster Whack". Use just your lower arms, keep the line tight, and have a correctly set drag. To much hook set with a heavy action rod can pull the bait and hook right out of the fish's mouth. To tight of drag will cause many broken lines or pulled hooks.Keep your drag on the loose side. Don't be greedy when the hard-fighting fish need line. In most cases your only lip hooking the fish. A good rod of choice would be nothing heavier them med/med-heavy or a rod action with a moderate to fast tip spooled with 6 to 10 lb. test line. If you do miss a strike,immediately drop your offering back. Many times there's competition for food within the bass community and there may be following fish which may strike any offering remaining on the hook. Tip: Bass anglers should constantly check yourline for nicks or cuts resulting from zebra muscles. These small scratches will weaken your line and you'll breakoff many fish! You are fishing a bottom covered by the muscles. Line can be weaken by the sharp edges of the mollusks shell. After each fish is landed, run your finger over the line a couple inches above the weight to the hook to check for bad areas. I've seen many big fish lost to damaged line.
In the Fall months, smallmouth generally prefer a more natural live bait presentation. As the water begins to cool, bass begin the stock up for the long winter. This is when these little `footballs' put on the weight and really show their muscle. If the angler is hardy enough, and doesn't mind missing alittlehunting, the angler can catch a real trophy. The 1994 fall Smallmouth Bass season was spectacular with the average fish falling between 14" to 16", with many over 17 to 21 inches and four pounds plus! Why miss out on the "best" of the "best" when it comes to fishing Lake Erie.Lake Erie's fall football season is just around the corner.