Lake Erie Smallmouth Bass fishing improving

While walleyes and yellow perch fill the needs of Lake Erie anglers most interested in the culinary aspect of the activity, those seeking smallmouth bass tend to be concerned with the sport end of things. Few fish possess the fighting ability of the smallmouth bass; few places offer bronzebacks in the numbers and size as does Lake Erie.

During the early 2000s there was a change in the dynamics of Erie’s smallmouth bass fishery. Though adult fish were still present in good numbers, anglers were seeing fewer and fewer young fish. The introduction of the round goby, and exotic species, was blamed, at least in part. The bottom-dwelling round goby is a nest robber. Research shows that gobies prey on smallmouth nests.

Several years ago, the Ohio Division of Wildlife, instituted a closed season during the spring spawning period. This move led to a reduction of fishing pressure, one that might be having a positive impact on the smallmouth population. With fewer anglers catching bass, there are fewer nests left unguarded. While it’s not known how much an impact this regulation change has made, smallmouth bass numbers are on the increase.

“Smallmouth bass are one place where we’re seeing the catch rates improve,” said Jeff Tyson of the Ohio Division of Wildife’s Lake Erie Research Unit. “They have been bumping up steadily for the past four or five years. They’re still not at the level back in the mid-1990s. But we’re still looking at a catch rate of 0.8 fish per hour, which is a phenomenal catch rate for smallmouth bass.”

As one might expect from this, the outlook for Erie smallmouth, not only in Ohio waters but Pennsylvania, is a good one. While perhaps not quite the same as it was in the glory days of 15 to 20 years ago, it’s still quite good.  The Michigan shoreline from Brest Bay to Luna Pier has seen an uptick in catch rates over the past couple of years. The dumping grounds have also seen much higher catch rates in the past two perch seasons to.

“I’d expect more of the same for smallmouth bass,” Tyson said. “We’re seeing more consistent hatches for smallmouth in recent years. Not every year are we getting a good hatch, but if we see fish in our bottom trawler, it generally means that they’ve had a decent hatch. And we’re seeing that more frequently. We’re seeing an improvement not only in the hatches, but in the age distribution. We have a fair number of younger fish moving into the fishery, which is different from what we saw back in the early 2000s.”