Knowing the habits of smallmouth bass is key to maximizing fishing success at Put-in-Bay. Smallmouth bass have relatively limited home ranges and do not move great distances in Lake Erie. They are attracted to bottom structure, such as rock, rubble, gravel, and sand substrates located around Put-in-Bay.
As water temperatures exceed 50 degrees in the spring, adult smallmouth move from deep-water wintering sites to shallow spawning areas within the lake. Spawning usually occurs in May at depths of 4 to 20 feet and at water temperatures between 55 and 65 degrees.
By July, adult smallmouth move to summer feeding areas where water temperatures are 65 to 75 degrees. The depth of their summering areas depends on water clarity, available forage and weather. As water temperatures drop below 50 degrees, smallies move to deeper waters in their home zone, where they remain in a semi-dormant condition during the winter months.
Rocky structures are key. Look for: gravel bottoms, rocky ledges, shelves, drop-offs, humps, shoals, reefs, break walls, piers, rocky and rip rap shorelines, and rocky bottoms in open water areas around Put-in-Bay.
Boat anglers have more of an advantage by drifting and moving from spot to spot. But shore anglers catch their share of sallies from rocky shorelines, piers, break walls and docks around Put-in-Bay, all popular haunts of smallmouth.
Many anglers use jigs, plastic worms or scented baits fished over rocky bottoms in 8 to 20 feet of water. Live baits generally provide the best success, with crayfish and shiner minnows the preferred choice. A traditional presentation still successful today is a lead-headed jig tipped with a piece of night crawler, or plastic worm, grub or tube bait. Anglers also cast artificial baits, including crank baits, jigs, spinners and spoons.
Baits and lures are worked along shallow reef bottoms, shoals and ledges, and near the lake bottom along rocky shorelines in the spring and fall. Anglers generally find better success in mid-summer by fishing along rocky bottoms in open water and near-shore areas around Put-in-Bay.
Most bass anglers practice catch-and-release. But for those who prefer to keep their catch, Ohio law requires that Lake Erie smallmouth bass less than 14 inches long be released back into the lake. There is a daily bag limit of five fish per angler.
Some smallmouth hot spots in the western basin include the Put-in-Bay; Kelley’s Island and surrounding small islands; the near-shore reef complex west of Port Clinton; Sandusky Bay; and the near-shore areas, shorelines and piers along Marblehead, Catawba and Sandusky.
Excellent central basin smallmouth territories include Ruggles Reef off Vermilion; the artificial reefs off Lorain and Cleveland; break walls at Huron, Vermilion, Lorain, Fairport Harbor, Conneaut and Ashtabula; the break wall at Perry Nuclear Power Station east of Fairport Harbor; and near-shore areas from Fairport Harbor to Conneaut.