ERIE, Pa. -- For the first time in four trips to Erie, Pa., to fish world-famous Presque Isle Bay, the catching didn’t live up to the reputation – for smallmouth bass – that is.
Last week, Gene Post and I camped and fished at Presque Isle for three days, hoping to get on an epic smallmouth bass bite as the bay is a haven for spawning lake-run bronzebacks. When you hit it right, catches of 3- and 4-pounders are the norm, not the exception, with the possibility of a 5- or 6-pounder thrown in.
So, we booked a spot at Lampe Campground and its associated Erie Port Authority launch ramp for May 10-12, knowing last year at the same time we got into some nice fish. It was supposed to be perfect weather, and we had visions of slaying the smallmouth as we had done in the past.
But, it turned out to be a case of “you should have been here last week,” or “you should come next week.”
In three days of fishing, we managed to catch just two smallmouth bass in one of the best bass fishing locations on not only Lake Erie, but anywhere in the U.S. We weren’t the only ones struggling, though, as hundreds of boats were out in Presque Isle Bay each day trying to land one of fishing’s hardest-fighting species. And, it wasn’t like fishermen were trying to hide their success.
No, spring bass fishing at Presque Isle is close-quarters fishing, and rarely is there a spot, or time, when there are not 5-10 boats within a couple hundred feet of you, and sometimes that number grows to as many as 30. We could see we weren’t the only ones having trouble.
Always another place, other species, other tactics to grab a fish
The good thing about Presque Isle, though, is there’s always somewhere else to fish, other species to fish for and other tactics to try. And although I kept harping on Gene to try other spots to catch smallies, we routinely kept returning to shallower, weedier water to sooth our pain with a hot largemouth bite.
In fact, it didn’t take us 25 minutes to have eight fish in the boat on Day 1, as Gene was jerking a crankbait and caught three largemouth bass and a northern pike and I boated a rock bass and three largemouth bass on the Ned Rig right off the bat. But, we weren’t catching our targeted species, so we went on the hunt.
We started hitting all the smallmouth hot spots, and came up empty. We even talked to other anglers and it seemed we were all in the same boat. So, we headed back to Horseshoe Bay and its lily pads and got on the largemouth bite again as we finished the day with 19 fish.
On Day 2 we were determined to find the smallies, and we joined a pack of over 30 boats in Thompson Bay, right off the main lake, to start out. In an hour of fishing, we had NO smallies, and had only seen one other caught. So, we made the decision to drive out into the main lake in hopes of finding fish.
We drove 10 miles east and found pristine smallmouth habitat, a mix of boulders, rocks, gravel and emerging weeds. The water was crystal clear as you could see 10-feet down, and we were sure we had outfoxed everyone else with our move as we were fishing by ourselves.
Big smallmouth gets him a personal best
The move wasn’t as fruitful as we had hope, though. However, I did manage to catch my biggest smallmouth ever, a 19-inch, 4-pound, 10-ounce bruiser that decided to gobble up a Zoom 4-inch watermelon red centipede that I was dragging behind the boat on a drop-shot rig.
The fish got my heart pumping, as I first got a view of it 50-feet out in the clear water, and was hoping it wouldn’t come unbuttoned as I worked it back to the boat. The closer it got, the more I knew it was my biggest smallie ever, and when Gene finally secured her in the net, I was thrilled to say the least.
Later, I added a solid 2-pounder on a jointed Rapala that came out from underneath a big rock to hit my lure, but that was the only other smallmouth caught on the trip.
We rode the East wind the 10 miles back to Thompson Bay, floating and fishing as we went, but could never hook up with another fish. It wasn’t a total bust, though, as we found some interesting spots to fish in the future, explored a new launch ramp possibility and saw a couple of small waterfalls, that we were sure would produce some fish, but they didn’t.
As the wind picked up, we called it a day, hoping Day 3 would be better.
Day 3 nets 19 largies and a jaunt back to Horseshoe Bay
We woke up our last morning wanting to quickly get the skunk out of the boat, so we headed back to Horseshoe Bay and fished the lily pads again. There already were several boats in the area and two on the pads, but we gave it a go anyways. And, to our surprise, there were enough hungry largemouth bass for everyone.
Gene and I caught 19 largies in an hour and a half on everything from a Ned Rig, to jerk baits to Senkos fished weedless. We got our fix enough so that we decided once again to go in search of smallmouth bass, trying some waters that we hadn’t fixed yet. We did find some fish, they were small, but not smallies. So, with our time at Presque Isle running out, we went back to Horseshoe Bay one last time. And what a great decision it was.
Instead of going to the set of lily pads that had treated us so well two times before, we ducked into a small cove on the north side of Horsehoe Bay, probably only 100-feet around. It’s one of those places that gets overlooked, because it’s only 2-feet deep. But, it had some weeds and wood, and it was LOADED with bass.
In a little over an hour, just sitting in the middle of what literally was a small pond that we could cast to ever section of it without moving, Gene and I caught some 30 largemouth bass. Most were a pound to a pound and a half, but some were over two pounds. And, they were hungry.
Because of the weeds and wood, I went with a weedless swim bait, either a 4-inch Runcl Paddle Tail or a 3.8-inch Googan Squad Saucy Swimmer, and I just hammered the fish. The top-water explosions were so fun, even when I didn’t hook up, it was a thrill watching the fish attack.
Gene and I finished the day catching 57 largemouth bass, easing our pain of only two smallies for the trip.
Largemouth bass like warm temperatures
So, why were the largemouth bass in Horseshoe Bay so thick? Water temperature.
Out on the main lake we found surface water temperatures as low as 47 degrees, and in Thompson Bay (my favorite place to fish for smallies) 52-55 degrees. That seemed like the perfect temperature for bronzebacks, but for some reason, they weren’t there.
In Horseshoe Bay, though, in the 2-feet of water we finished the trip fishing in, the water was 66 degrees, and the largemouth were looking for places to spawn.
So, while the smallmouth fishing was disappointing, Presque Isle once again proved that if you’re willing to adapt, you almost always can get on a hot bite.
Outdoor correspondent Art Holden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Record: Fishermen use skills to make three days at Presque Isle a good trip