Amallmouth fisheries are experiencing a Bronze Age Renaissance across North America. For a variety of reasons, more and bigger smallmouths are turning up from the Atlantic to the Pacific, in the North, and in Dixie. As Al Lindner says, “If you’re not catching bigger smallmouths than you ever have in your life, you’re snoozin’.” Our Top 10 aren’t listed in any particular order. Same for the Second Ten.
1. Lake Erie, Ohio-Ontario-New York-Pennsylvania — Of all the smallmouth waters in North America, Erie seems likely to be a perennial topper for lists like this one. Biologists report that Erie experienced perhaps its largest-ever smallmouth hatch in 1992. In 1998, those fish will average 20 inches or better. Always one of the best numbers fisheries in the smallmouth world, Erie will be one of the hottest trophy fisheries this year.
When the bite’s on, an average fisherman can boat 200 smallmouths in a day, and odds are growing that one of those fish will top 7 pounds. Fish over 9 pounds have been taken on Erie, and some experts believe that world-record-class fish are possible.
By late April, as water temperatures climb into the high 40°F range, smallmouths are caught on hair jigs and bait where the deepest available water approaches shoreline-related reefs and points. Soon after, smallies chew crankbaits, as if they’d never seen one before, in harbors and flats near shoreline rocks, and in some cases, weedbeds. Lakewide, bass tend to spawn sometime in May. Then as they move back out to deeper reefs and humps, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, hair jigs, and livebait tactics take over.
Through summer, most guides work the deep base and sides of rocky reefs or deep flats with “sandbag” rigs (also called Slinky rigs) and nightcrawlers, leeches, or minnows. Another hot bite occurs in September, as smallmouths make one final hair-raising invasion into shallow water, where they slam anything that passes by.
Guides: Canadian side — Greg Horoky, 519/738-3095, Bill’s Guide Service, 519/738-1134 or 519/738-1133; American side — Jim Fofrich, 419/729-2181; Bass Islands — Pat Chrysler, 419/285-4631; New York — Dan Dietzen, 716/672-5868. Lodging: Lorain County Visitor’s Bureau, 800/334-1673; Pennsylvania — Erie Chamber of Commerce, 814/454-7191; Canadian side — St. Thomas Tourist Association, 519/631-8188.
2. Lake St. Clair, Michigan-Ontario — Professional bass ace Kevin Van Dam calls it “the best smallmouth lake in the world. When bass are spawning and I can spot them in the 3- to 5-foot depths and select for larger fish, it’s possible to catch 100 four-pounders in a day.” How many lakes can make that claim?
Sounds like an exaggeration until you visit this urban wonderland. Surrounded by Detroit and Mt. Clemens in Michigan, and Windsor on the Ontario side, it seems impossible that such a lake could produce that kind of fishing. But smallmouths inhabit the entire shoreline of this 420-square-mile lake. Maximum depth is only 25 feet, perfect for smallies throughout. Clearing due to zebra-mussel activity has allowed weeds to grow deeper and thicker than in the past, and smallmouths inhabit the edges and pockets of milfoil and coontail beds.
Ron Perrine, president of Bass’N Bait Company, likes Mitchells Bay in Ontario. “Fish average a solid three pounds there,” he says. Other hot spots include the entire shoreline from Gaukler Point in St. Clair Shores to Belvidere Bay near Selfridge Air Force Base. Spinnerbaits, tubes, and suspending minnowbaits account for lots of smallmouths all over Lake St. Clair. Ripping minnowbaits as fast and erratically as possible over pockets in massive weedbeds takes both largemouths and smallmouths throughout summer. When fish are less active, try tubes, Texas rigs, or the Float ‘n’ Fly technique. The usual bait rigging techniques with nightcrawlers or minnows seldom fail here, either.
Information: Lakeside Tackle Shop Hotline in St. Clair Shores, 248/473-2033. Guides: Canadian side — Vincent’s Guide Service, 519/352-1148; American side — Bob Korznowski, 810/954-2612. Lodging: River Crab Bluewater Inn in St Clair, 800/468-3727.
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