ERIE, Pa. – For the first time in four trips to Erie, Pa., to fish the famous Almost Isle Bay, the catch hasn’t lived up to its reputation – that is, l smallmouth bass.
Last week, Gene Post and I camped and fished in Près Isle for three days, hoping to catch an epic bite of smallmouth bass, as the bay is a refuge for spawning lake bronzebacks. When hitting well, 3 and 4 pound catches are the norm, not the exception, with the possibility of a 5 or 6 pounder.
So we booked a spot at Lampe Campground and its associated Erie Port Authority boat launch for May 10-12, knowing that this time last year we dived in some beautiful fish. The weather was supposed to be perfect, and we had visions of killing the little mouth like we had in the past.
But, it turned out to be “you should have been here last week” or “you should come next week”.
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In three days of fishing, we managed to catch just two smallmouth bass at one of the best bass fishing spots not only on Lake Erie, but anywhere in the United States. We weren’t the only ones struggling, as hundreds of boats were out. in the bay of Près Isle trying every day to land one of the most combative species in fishing. And it wasn’t as if the fishermen were trying to hide their success.
No, the spring bass fishing in Près Isle is close quarters fishing, and there’s rarely a place or time when there aren’t 5-10 boats within a few hundred feet of you, and sometimes that number reached 30. We could see that we weren’t the only ones having problems.
Always another place, other species, other tactics to catch a fish
The nice thing about Almost Isle, however, is that there’s always somewhere else to fish, other species to catch, and other tactics to try. And while I kept insisting on Gene trying other places to catch cubs, we regularly returned to shallower, worse water to soothe our pain with a warm bigmouth bite.
In fact, it didn’t take us 25 minutes to get eight fish in the boat on day 1 because Gene was pulling a lure and catching three largemouth bass and a northern pike and I sailed a bass and three large bass mouth on the Ned Rig right off the bat. But, we weren’t catching our target species, so we went hunting.
We started hitting all the smallmouth hotspots and came up empty. We even talked to other anglers and it seemed like we were all in the same boat. So we headed back to Horseshoe Bay and its water lilies and grabbed the bigmouth bite again as we ended the day with 19 fish.
On day 2 we were determined to find the little ones and joined a group of over 30 boats in Thompson Bay just off the main lake to start. In an hour of fishing we had NO small fish and only saw one caught. So we made the decision to head to the main lake in hopes of finding fish.
We traveled 10 miles east and found pristine smallmouth habitat, a mix of boulders, rocks, gravel and emergent weeds. The water was crystal clear as you could see 10 feet deep, and we were sure we had outrun everyone with our move as we fished on our own.
Big smallmouth earns him a personal best
The move, however, was not as successful as we had hoped. However, I did manage to grab my biggest little mouth ever, a 19-inch, 4-pound, 10-ounce killer who decided to swallow a 4-inch Zoom watermelon red centipede I was dragging behind the boat on a drop-shot platform.
The fish made my heart race, as I saw it for the first time 50 feet in clear water, and I hoped it wouldn’t come loose as I returned it to the boat. The closer it got, the more I knew she was my biggest little one 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 hinged Rapala that came out from under a large rock to hit my lure, but that was the only other small mouth caught on the trip.
We rode the east wind the 10 miles to Thompson Bay, floating and fishing as we went, but we were never able to catch another fish. It wasn’t a complete failure, however, as we found some interesting places to fish in the future, explored a new launch pad possibility, and saw a few small waterfalls, which we were sure would produce fish, but they did not. .
When the wind picked up we called it a day, hoping day 3 would be better.
Day 3 19 extended nets and a getaway back to Horseshoe Bay
We woke up our last morning wanting to get the skunk out of the boat quickly, so we headed back to Horseshoe Bay and fished the lily pads again. There were already several boats in the area and two on the platforms, but we tried anyway. And, to our surprise, there were enough hungry largemouth bass to go around.
Gene and I caught 19 largies in an hour and a half on everything from Ned Rig to jerk baits to weedless fished Senkos. We had our fill enough that we once again decided to go looking for smallmouth bass, trying waters we hadn’t corrected yet. We found fish, they were small, but not small. So, our time at Almost Isle being exhausted, we headed 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 twice before, we dived into a small cove on the north side of Horsehoe Bay, probably only 100 feet away. This is one of those places that gets overlooked because it’s only 2 feet deep. But, there were weeds and wood, and it was LOADED with bass.
In just over an hour, just sitting in the middle of what was literally a small pond that we could cast over each section without moving, Gene and I caught about 30 largemouth bass. Most weighed a pound to a pound and a half, but some weighed more than 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 just hammered the fish. The explosions on the surface of the water were so fun, even when I wasn’t logging in, it was a thrill to watch the fish attack.
Gene and I ended the day catching 57 largemouth bass, relieving our pain of only two small ones for the trip.
Largemouth bass like warm temperatures
So why were the largemouth bass in Horseshoe Bay so thick? The water temperature.
On the main lake we found surface water temperatures as low as 47 degrees, and at Thompson Bay (my favorite place to fish for little ones) 52-55 degrees. It seemed like the perfect temperature for the bronzebacks, but for some reason they weren’t there.
At Horseshoe Bay, however, in the 2 feet of water where we ended the fishing trip, the water was 66 degrees and the big mouth was looking for places to spawn.
So while smallmouth fishing was disappointing, Almost Isle has once again proven that if you’re willing to adapt, you can almost always grab a hot bite.
Outside Correspondent Art Holden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.