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Summer 2003 Issue
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Lake Erie Bronzebacks
Capt. Phil Cadez

Bronzebacks, jumpers, smallies, smallmouth bass, are names associated with strong fighting fish that will challenge your fishing abilities. They never give up and will leap high out of the water while trying to spit the hook. Lake Erie population of these brutes are as high as ever.

The western end of Lake Erie is a natural area for smallmouth bass, because of it’s many sunken limestone reefs. These fish will stay close to the structure where they were spawned as long as the food fish stay around. They are caught from late April till November. You’ll never see a skinny "jumper" in these waters because there are so many shiners, shad and gobi for them to eat.

A good fish locator will help you find the hard bottom structure that will insure good fishing for these tough fighters. Start in 12 feet of water looking for drop offs that are near that might go down to 20 or even 30 feet. The rougher the structure the better. The fish will move to different depths because of water currents, food fish, rough water, high sunlight etc. They’ll be somewhere near the drop offs, keep looking. One day they’ll be on the downside of the humps and the next day they might be on the upside of this structure.

Once you have found the right areas to start fishing you can fish with artificial jigs, tubes, power grubs etc. or live bait. In a light chop you can drift over the structure bouncing the bottom with jigs or especially tube jigs. You might want to use at least 3/8 to 5/8 ounce jigs if you have to get down to lower depths. Use only jig heads that allow you to place the plastic bodies or tubes the right way. They will be completely inbedded in the tubes with only the hook exposed. Tubes can be plain or have a salty flavor and be3 r 4 inches in length. Favorite colors are pumpkin seed, plum, watermelon, chartreuse, silver speckled or other combinations of these colors.

You need to be near the bottom so let the jig get down in the rocks. Pop it with a jumping motion, then let it settle back down. While letting it settle don’t leave much slack because the fish might hit it on the drop. You’ve got to set the hook hard if you feel a bump. When drifting slow keep a floating marker with 35 feet of line on it handy. If you find a pocket of fish throw it to mark the spot. Then you can re-drift it or anchor on the hot spot.

Live bait fished near the bottom is probably the easiest and best way to catch these bronze brutes. The tackle used consists of light spinning or bait casting combinations, rods are usually short but firm, 5 to 5-1/2 feet in length with graphite composition. You can use a swivel on a 24 inch leader with a hook on the end, or use a split shot placed on the line approximately 24 inches away from the hook. Either way you hook up this rig it will keep the slip sinker away from the bait. A number 24 or 26 center drought Mustad hook tied securely to the end of the line is the most preferred rig.

If the wind is slight, and the drift is slow you can locate the right depth by dragging soft craws or leeches near the bottom. If the drift speeds up use heavier slip sinkers. Some anglers have the bait set and set the hook early while others open the bait and let the fish go with the bait. Either method works providing the fish has the bait securely in its mouth.

When you’re sure the fish has the bait, set the hook and hold on. Softcraws are the best bait and are sold in local bait shops for approx. $5.00 per dozen. Make sure you have at least 3 to 5 dozen per person, because sheepshead also love these tasty bait. Hook the crawfish by the tail and try to keep it close to the bottom.

If you have located the fish near some structure you might mark it with a buoy so you can keep drifting by it or you can anchor on or near the "honey hole". Anchor with a long line so that you can change position without starting the motor by taking in or letting out more anchor line. When anchored, drop the crawfish to the bottom but keep the sinker 6 to 12inches off the structure. Again, you can set the hook early or better yet let the fish run with the bait. Set your drags easy, or you’ll break the line with the tension of these fighting bronzebacks.

Experienced anglers that have visited Lake Erie’s super
 smallmouth areas agree that it’s one of the best areas in North America to get a trophy over 5 pounds. We average14 to 23 inch fish which goes 2 to 6 pounds. The Ohio record is over 9 pounds caught near Kelley’s Island.

If you want to get in on this super fishing, bring a good sized boat or book a charter with an experienced guide. To receive move information call 1 800 BUCKEYE or e mail me at [email protected] .

Good fishin!