Lake Erie Walleye Magazine
Spring 2002 Vol. 8, No. 1
HOT OFF THE PRESS
Proven Lures &
Michigan angler Randy VanDam caught the Ohio record smallmouth bass from Lake Erie on a jigging spoon in June of 1993. The 9- pound, 8-ounce fish shattered the previous record of 7 pounds and change and underscored the effectiveness of jigging spoons for Erieís smallmouth bass.
Vandalís primary spoon jigging technique could be called swim- jigging, because he dances the spoon above bottom with only occasional bottom contact. As he twitches the spoon with the rod tip held high, VanDam lifts and lowers the lure with a slow pumping motion. Many strikes come as VanDam shakes the spoon down after working it up.
The swim-jigging presentation produces smallmouths for VanDam when he fishes vertically, casts and retrieves or drifts over likely structures. It was the drifting method that accounted for Ohioís record smallmouth. His rule of thumb is to jig vertically in water deeper than 18 feet and to cast or drift in anything shallower. The exception is murky water.
"If thereís a little color to the water," says VanDam, "say 4 feet of visibility, it breaks up the shadow of the boat and you can get away with vertical jigging in shallower water."
The Rattle Snakie Jigging Spoon that produced VanDamís Ohio state record smallmouth features a molded- in glass rattle. Every time he twitches the rod tip, the spoon sounds off and calls to bass.
"I mostly use the 1 1/2 and 3/4 ounce sizes," says VanDam. "I fish them with a stiff, 6 1/2- foot baitcasting rod matched with 10 to 14 pound monofilament."
Though smallmouths may be taken on jigging spoons in late spring and summer, early spring and fall are the key periods. I learned just how effective spoon jigging can be during a November outing with Frank Scalish of Cleveland, Ohio, a successful tournament bass angler and a frequent Lake Erie fisherman.
We launched in Lorain, Ohio. Before long, Scalish spotted a massive school of baitfish on the screen of his liquid crystal graph. They were located on the edge of a drop-off that slid abruptly from 22 to 30 feet.
"Weíre going to get into them now," said Scalish. "The smallies just have to be under that bait."
Scalish dropped a 3/4-ounce Hopkins Shorty jigging spoon straight down through the baitfish to the bottom. He snapped the lure up and down once or twice and set the hook into a respectable smallmouth. He immediately tossed out a marker buoy.
Over the next 30 minutes, we spooned up one smallmouth after another without moving the boat, including several doubles. By the time we headed in, our spoons had accounted for more than 50 bass, including three in the 5-pound class.
Scalish favors fast sinking spoons, such as the Hopkins Shorty and Horizon Lureís Perk Minnow. To insure more reliable hookups, he replaces the original treble with a No. 2 Gamakatsu round bend hook that features a wider gap and thinner wire. To cut down on line twist and improve the lureís fluttering action, Scalish rigs his spoons with a large 0-ring and a swivel. He matches the spoon with a heavy-action 6 1/2-foot baitcasting outfit and 15-pound line.
Vibrating blades, such as Reef Runnerís Cicada, may be fished in the same manner as jigging spoons. These heavy metal lures kick hard from side to side when you lift them, sending out vibrations that excite lethargic bass.
"I start with spoons and Cicadas," says Snyder, "right after ice out in late March or early April. Iíll fish these lures 25 to 35 feet deep until the water temperature rises to the upper 40s. This approach has produced some of the biggest smallmouths Iíve ever caught from drop-offs around the Bass islands. When the water gets close to 50 degrees, I switch to tubes and grubs."
When smallmouths get active, twitching jerkbaits beneath the surface pulls them up from deeper water and generates electrifying strikes. This exciting fishing method is especially productive in the spring during the spawning period.
"I start throwing jerkbaits," says Snyder, "when the water temperature rises to 55 degrees. That 55- to 60-degree range is prime time for these lures. I also have luck with jerkbaits again in the summer when bass feed on baitfish and suspend. Iíve brought bass up from 20 feet that were suspended over 40 feet of water."
The retrieve defines the term "jerkbait." Any long minnow lure worked beneath the surface with a jerk-pause action falls into this category. Lures 4 1/2 to 5 inches in length fare best for Lake Erie smallmouths. Proven models include Smithwickís Rattliní Rogue, Reef Runnerís RipStick, Bomberís Long A, Stormís ThunderStick and Rapalaís Husky Jerk.
Floating jerkbaits take Lake Erie smallmouths, but suspending models generally fair better. Instead of rising quickly toward the surface during a pause in the retrieve, as standard floating minnows do, a weighted jerkbait suspends or rises very slowly. It mimics a disoriented minnow. Even sluggish bass have trouble resisting such a temptation.
Several companies have introduced weighted jerkbaits. The balance is so critical, however, that nobody has yet found a way to mass produce a truly neutrally buoyant lure. Most manufactured models rise very slowly, which is usually good enough to encourage strikes.
When bass demand long pauses, the lure must stay down. This requires that even new suspending jerkbaits should be tuned before you put them to work. Switching to different hooks or slightly oversized hooks may balance the lure. Storm Lures makes SuspenDots and SuspenStrips, which are self-adhesive metal weights. Stick them to the belly of a lure to achieve the balance you desire.
On calm days, you may maneuver a boat with an electric motor and cast to the bass. In breezy conditions common to Lake Erie, youíre better off drifting with the wind and casting ahead of the boat.
Start the jerkbait down with a sideways pull on the rod. A medium-action baitcasting or spinning outfit with 10-pound test monofilament performs this task nicely. Then hold the rod tip low and twitch the lure along with a steady cadence, such as jerk-jerk, pauseÖ, jerk; jerk-jerk, pauseÖjerk. Or jerk-jerk, pause..jer-jerk, pause.
The critical aspect is the length of the pause. Most strikes occur while the lure is at rest. Active bass may require a pause of only one or two seconds. When theyíre more tentative, you may have to let the lure suspend six seconds or more. The waiting game may try your patience, but youíll get over it the first time a heavy smallmouth inhales the jerkbait.
Though few anglers fish spinner baits on Lake Erieís offshore structures, they are gaining favor with those who probe weed beds that grow in protected bays. Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island, Presque Isle Bay and the Inner Bay of Long Point Bay can produce fast action with spinnerbaits when bass move shallow. Overhead style spinnerbaits featuring large willow leaf blades appeal to Lake Erieís smallmouth bass, particularly 3/8- to 3/4-ounce sizes. A heavy spinnerbait carries farther under windy conditions.
Effective blade combinations include a No. 2 or 3 nickel Colorado lead blade with a No. 5, 6 or 7 gold willow leaf trailing blade. Painted chartreuse blades also have their proponents.
Rubber or silicone skirts in white, chartreuse, red and combinations of these colors appeal to smallmouths. Dress the hook with a 3- or 4-inch curly-tailed grub in white, chartreuse or red.
Retrieving big spinnerbaits slowly beneath the surface sometimes takes smallmouths, particularly when the lure ticks along the tops of submerged weeds. More often, however, a fast, churning retrieve that runs the lure just beneath the surface triggers more strikes.
The large willow leaf blade reflects a wide band of light. Smallmouths react aggressively to the commotion, often darting up from boulders or weeds several feet below to assault the lure. Grip the rod firmly, because strikes may be jolting. You need something on the order of a 6 1/2-foot medium-heavy action bait casting outfit spooled with a minimum of I 5-pound test monofilament to withstand this hard-hitting brand of bass fishing.
For deep spinnerbait fishing, opt for a 1/2- to 3/4-ounce lure matched with a large Colorado or Indiana blade that gives off sharp vibrations. Let this lure helicopter to the bottom. Then work it
back by ripping it sharply off the bottom and letting it flutter back down. The ripping action attracts bass, which strike as the spinnerbait falls. A handful of anglers are having good results with this ploy during the summer by fishing black-skirted spinnerbaits after dark.
Crankbaits are largely overlooked smallmouth lures on Lake Erie, except by those who employ trolling tactics. If you enjoy casting crankbaits, donít hesitate to give them a workout when bass relate to bottom structures less than 20 feet deep. Thereís no question that Erieís smallmouths will belt a big-lipped, deep diving crankbait as it bumps and bounces along the bottom like a distressed crayfish or a fleeing baitfish.
Whatever brand and model crankbait you select, it should dive deep enough so that it grinds the bottom for several feet before it begins climbing back up to the boat. If youíre targeting a reef that tops out at 12 feet, choose a crankbait that digs 15 feet or deeper. Long casts give crankbaits more time to dive deep and work the bottom. Thin lines allow crankbaits to dive deeper. A medium-action 7-foot rod and 8-pound monofilament helps you run crankbaits down where they need to be to tempt smallmouths.
Lipless rattling crankbaits, such as the Rat-L- Trap and Cordell Super Spot, have no diving bills, but they still deserve a place in your tackle box. When retrieved briskly, these lures swim with a tight wiggle that makes their internal BBs chatter wildly. The tumult drives smallmouths mad, particularly bass in shallow water, such as in bays and over points.
One deadly presentation is to rip a lipless rattler along at a fast pace and to suddenly stop cranking. Let the lure sink for a few seconds, rip it ahead several feet and kill it again. Continue this stop and go action all the way back to the boat. Smallmouths often tailgate rattlers. When the lure abruptly stops and sinks, it triggers a reflex strike.
The greatest thrill in fishing occurs when a smallmouth explodes after a topwater lure. Lake Erieís clearer water has improved the odds for getting into this kind of action. Your best bet is in the spring when the bass move shallow. Calm water in bays and on the lee sides of islands give the bass a better opportunity to see your lures dancing across the surface.
Arguably the best topwater plugs for trophy smallmouths are stickbaits, such as Heddonís aged Zara Spook. At 3/4 ounce and
4 1/2 inches in length, the Spook is shaped like a fat stogie. It has no propellers or other noise makers, but sashays back and forth across the surface with a lifelike dance called "walking the dog."
Walk the dog by rhythmically twitching the lure on a semi-tight line with a low rod tip. Take up line between twitches to maintain the proper tension. Too much tension prevents the lure from swapping ends and gliding to the side; too little tension results in a loss of control.
Propbaits, such as the Devilís Horse, stir smallmouths into action. Twitch this type of lure across the surface and the propellers on each end gurgle, splash and rip up a fuss.
Vary the force of the twitches and the length of the pauses until you determine what the bass prefer on a given day. Sometimes subtle movements with long pauses are required. At other times, a frantic action with momentary stops turns them on.
Many smallmouth anglers dote on poppers, such as Rebelís Pop-R, Stormís Chug Bug and the Rico. These baits are all in the 1/4-ounce size range and sport dressings on their rear trebles to help coax strikes. Their cupped faces pop, gurgle and spit water
during the retrieve. Work them over the surface with three to five quick pops interspersed by pauses, or give them a continuous chugging action.
This article was an adaptation from Mark Hick's Book, Lake Erie Smallmouth. Part I appeared in the Fall 2001 issue of Lake Erie
Walleye Magazine. T order Mark's book on smallmouth bash fishing in Lake Erie, see page ___ or call 1-800-447-8238