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Lake Erie Smallies at Cabela's

Lake Erie Smallies

Author: Melissa Hathaway

For the angler, bottom structure is the key to finding smallmouth bass.

Lake Erie is well known hot spot for smallmouth.
For the angler, bottom structure is the key to finding smallmouth bass. Look for gravel bottoms, rocky ledges, shelves, drop-offs, humps, shoals, reefs, breakwalls, piers, rocky rip-rap shorelines, and rocky bottoms in open water areas.

Smallmouth bass have relatively small home ranges and do not move great distances in Lake Erie like walleyes. Smallmouth are usually associated with bottom structure such as rock, rubble, gravel, and sand.

As water temperatures near 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring, adult smallmouth move from deep-water wintering sites to shallower spawning areas. Spawning occurs at depths of from four to twenty feet and at water temperatures between 55 and 65 degrees, usually in May. After spawning, adult smallmouths move to summer foraging areas seeking water temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees, usually by July. The depth of their summering area depends on water clarity, available food, and weather. As water temperatures drop below 50 degrees in the fall, they move to deeper waters in their home zone, where they remain in a semidormant condition during the winter months.

For the angler, bottom structure is the key to finding smallmouth bass. Look for gravel bottoms, rocky ledges, shelves, drop-offs, humps, shoals, reefs, breakwalls, piers, rocky rip-rap shorelines, and rocky bottoms in open water areas.

Boat anglers have an advantage by drifting and moving from spot to spot, but shore anglers catch their share of smallies from rocky shorelines, piers, breakwalls, and docks, all popular haunts of smallmouth.

Many anglers use jigs, plastic worms, or scented baits fished in eight to 20 feet of water. Live bait generally provides the best success, with crayfish and shiner minnows the preferred live baits. A traditional presentation still successful today is a lead-head jig tipped with a piece of nightcrawler, plastic worm, grub, or tube bait. Anglers also cast other artificial baits, including crankbaits, spinners, and blade baits.

During spring and fall, baits and lures should be worked along shallow reef bottoms, shoals and ledges, and near bottom along rocky shore-lines. Anglers generally find better success in mid-summer by fishing along rocky bottoms in open water and nearshore areas.

Most bass anglers practice catch and release, but for those who prefer to keep their catch, Ohio law requires that smallmouth bass caught from Lake Erie be at least 14 inches in length. There is also a daily creel limit of five fish per angler.

Some smallmouth hot spots in the Western Basin include: the Bass Islands complex; Kelleys Island; nearshore reef complex west of Port Clinton; Sandusky Bay; and nearshore areas, shore-lines, and piers along Marblehead, Catawba, and Sandusky.

Excellent Central Basin smallmouth territory includes: Ruggles Reef off Vermilion; artificial reefs off Cleveland and Lorain; breakwalls at Huron, Vermilion, Lorain, Fairport Harbor, Conneaut, and Ashtabula; Perry Nuclear Plant east of Fairport Harbor; and nearshore areas from Fairport Harbor to Conneaut.

Tight lines!


Ohio’s state record smallmouth bass was caught in Lake Erie on June 16,1993. It weighed nine pounds, eight ounces.


Author Note: Melissa Hathaway is an angler and the Lake Erie Information Officer at the Ohio Division of Wildlife offices in Sandusky,Ohio.

* Article provided by Wild Ohio Magazine. For information on how to sign up for your free subscription to Wild Ohio Magazine, call 1-800-WILDLIFE.