Lake Erie and Lake Erie Fishing
Lake Erie is the 11th largest lake in the world by surface area. It is the
fourth largest and the shallowest of the five Great Lakes. Lake Erie is 241
miles long, 57 miles wide at its widest point, has a surface area of 9,910
square miles, and has 871 miles of shoreline. It is fed primarily by the Detroit
River at its western end, and drains out into Lake Ontario through the Niagara
River and the Welland Canal.
The Pennsylvania shoreline of Lake Erie is exclusively in Erie County. The Ohio
line is at 80o
31'.10", and the New York line is at 79o
The lake is divided into three "basins" - eastern, central and western. The
western basin extends from the west end of the lake to about around Cedar Point,
Ohio. The central basin extends to the edge of the trenches in Erie. The eastern
basin extends from Erie to the eastern edge of the lake in Buffalo, New York.
The western basin is generally shallow. The central basin is deeper, with depths
averaging about 60 feet, and the bottom is generally flat. The eastern basin is
much deeper than the central basin. By the Pennsylvania/New York line, and east,
the bottom drops quickly.
For further information in Lake Erie and the Great Lake, see the
Lake Erie can be beautiful. Its sunsets are considered some of the best in the
world, with the sun setting over the lake in the western sky. Drifting for
walleye on a calm July evening as the sun sets over the lake is a memorable
experience. Lake Erie has miles of sandy beaches, and the beaches of Presque
Isle are a major attraction to visitors from near and far. At other locations,
the lake features high shale cliffs that drop into the lake.
Because it it so shallow, the lake can rapidly change from calm to stormy. On
September 22, 1992, while a B.A.S.S. competition was being held on Lake Erie,
the lake changed from small "rollers" to massive ten foot waves in a matter of
minutes, sinking or beaching numerous boats and sending two dozen anglers into
the lake. Lake Erie is unlike any river or inland lake. Anyone who has seen the
fury of fifteen foot waves slamming the shore will understand that the force of
the lake must be respected. Regrettably, the lake has claimed the lives of
numerous boaters, and in most cases the tragedy could have been averted. Lake
Erie can also fog in very quickly. Sitting in a boat seven miles from shore when
the fog suddenly rolls in will make you appreciate every dime you spent on a
Loran or GPS system.
Waves are by far the greatest impediment to boaters. Waves at two feet or less,
or even one to three feet, are usually not a problem for boats appropriate for
Lake Erie. Two to four foot waves can be somewhat unpleasant for boats under 20
feet. Three to five foot waves will make many "landlubbers" seasick, and will
make fishing conditions difficult. Waves regularly over four foot are generally
too much for most fishing boats on Lake Erie. Likewise, smaller waves with
regular whitecaps can also be unpleasant, and often signify deteriorating
Looking at the waves from shore is not necessarily a good indication of
conditions off shore. If the wind is blowing from the south, often the lake will
be nearly calm at shore. However, the wind is pushing the water and waves off
shore. As you boat north, the waves will increase, sometimes significantly, and
what started out as a pleasant trip turns into a battering through high waves.
In addition, if the wind is from the south, when you turn back to shore you will
be fighting the waves rather than boating with them, and it can take you far
longer to get back than it took you to get out. There have many days when
numerous boats leave early for the deep waters in what appears to be calm
conditions, only to return a short time later battered by high waves off shore.
If it is 8:00 a.m. and you see a number of fishing boats returning to port with
pale looking occupants and the wind is blowing from the south, getting a good
report on the offshore conditions may save you the same unpleasant trip.
Along most of the lake, the bottom drops fairly quickly and steadily to a depth
of approximately 30 feet. This area has some rocky bottom areas, with some
drop-offs and ledges. This area is where most of the smallmouth bass and other
panfish are caught.
At least on the west side of the Peninsula, the bottom is relatively flat and
featureless for a long period as it very gradually drops from a depth of about
40 feet to a depth of about 50 feet. On the east side of the City of Erie, there
are more rocky areas, and as a result, there is generally better fishing for
smallmouth bass. The best areas for bass are from the "cribs" off the Hammermill
plant to the New York State line. Bass fishing is quite popular off the mouths
of Twelve, Fourteen and Sixteen Mile creeks.
The trenches are on the west side of Pennsylvania's waters of Lake Erie. The
"first trench" starts at a depth of about 55 feet, drops to a depth of over 70
feet, then returns to about 60 feet. The southern edge of the first trench is
about five miles out from the Walnut Creek Access area. The "second trench" is
about one mile further out than the northern edge of the first trench. At the
Ohio line, the two trenches run together and are one deep area. The eastern edge
of the trenches marks the edge border between the central basin and the eastern
basin of Lake Erie.
The mountain consists of a slightly raised area, then a deep depression area. It
is located in the eastern basin, north of the North East Marina. It makes the
deepest part of the lake in Pennsylvania waters. The deepest part of the
mountain is around 200 feet, although this area is in Canadian waters.
The mountain is known for its steelhead and lake trout fishing. These cold water
fish move to the mountain as the lake waters warm. Consequently, the best
fishing for steelhead and lake trout at the mountain starts in mid-summer. In
addition to steelhead and lake trout, walleye are also taken along the edges and
into the mountain.
Spring on Lake Erie can be cold, and is not a popular time for fishing. Due to
its size, typically the lake remains cold from the winter even after the air
temperature has warmed considerably. Boating on the lake can be much colder than
you would expect given the conditions on shore.
Perch fishing offshore can be productive, and is probably the most popular
species fished for during the spring. Fishing for smallmouth bass and rock bass
can also be good offshore. Walleye fishing offshore is generally slow in the
One unique and popular fishing opportunity in the spring is night fishing for
walleye from shore. This season usually lasts several weeks, and starts usually
in the first week of April. As the steelhead fingerlings leave the creeks at
night, the walleye cruise the shoreline looking for the fingerlings. Because the
walleye are so close to shore, they usually arrive only at dusk, and feed during
the night hours. These can be good sized walleye, with fish in the six to eight
pound range not uncommon.
There is also some walleye fishing during the days both closer to shore (in the
30 to 40 foot depth range) and further offshore in the trenches and at the
Usually starting in late May and for several weeks thereafter, there can be very
good fishing for rock bass inside the North East Marina.
Lake Erie is now designated a "big bass" water. Until mid-June, only one
smallmouth bass may taken, and it must be over 20 inches. For further
information, see the
Summer is the most popular time for fishing on Lake Erie. The prime walleye
season is generally considered to be from July through September. Most walleye
fishing during the summer is done considerably offshore, in the trenches to the
west, and at the mountain to the east.
Likewise, the most popular time for fishing for steelhead and lake trout at the
mountain is in the the middle to late summer, when the fish have moved into the
deep waters at the mountain.
Fall fishing on Lake Erie can be productive. Schools of walleye may remain
offshore through October (although some years the schools seem to disappear in
Trolling for steelhead and salmon just off the mouths of the tributaries becomes
popular in September and October, as these fish school off the creek mouths
prior to making their runs.
There is no significant fishing on Lake Erie in the winter once the lake
freezes. Generally ice dunes form all along the lake shore as the winds blow the
ice toward shore. These ice dunes are very dangerous because the sub-surface
structure can be weak and the dunes make it difficult if not impossible to tell
where the water's edge is located. People have climbed on the dunes, fallen
through and landed in deep water. It is always recommended that you stay off the
ice dunes on Lake Erie.
Any ice fishing in the region is done on
Presque Isle Bay
, and not on the
There are occassions during the winter when there is some open water at the
mouths of tributaries. Sometimes steelhead can be taken in these open areas,
even in the coldest and nastiest of weather.
Offshore Fishing Boats and Gear
Boats and Boat Equipment
Boating on Lake Erie is not like boating on any other body of water in
Pennsylvania. The lake is vast and can be deadly. If you do not have an
appropriate boat, you will be risking your life boating on the lake. Deep V-hull
boats are the norm on the lake. The deep hull gives the boat stability and the
ability to take the waves. Tri-hulls have too much bottom surface, cannot take
the waves well, and its occupants will get pounded by the waves. Pontoon boats
and typical shallow "bass boats" are not appropriate any distance from shore.
Any boat under 16 feet in length is also risky to take far from shore.
If you plan to fish in the deep waters, at least a 50 horsepower motor is
recommended. Many boats which troll on the lake have two motors; a large motor
for getting to and from the fishing waters, and a small, 5 or 10 horsepower long
shaft pull start outboard motor for trolling. This combination has at least two
advantages. First, it saves wear on the main motor, which can foul after
extended trolling at slow speeds. Second, it provides a safety net - if the main
motor dies (or the batteries die and will not start the main motor), the
trolling motor can bring you back (albeit slowly). Many who do not have a
separate trolling motor use a trolling plate on the main motor to maintain a
slow trolling speed. Many lake boats also have two batteries. Two batteries give
you added protection that you can get your big motor started to get you home.
Cranking the key and hearing the motor slowly turn then stop due to a dead
battery is a very unpleasant experience when you are miles from shore.
There are three common pieces of equipment used on lake boats that are highly
recommended: a marine radio, a fish/depth finder, and a navigational aid
consisting of either a loran or a GPS unit. The marine radio is an important
safety item to call for help if you or other boaters might need it. The coast
guard, with a station located just inside the channel to Presque Isle Bay,
monitors channel 16. A radio can also be used to call for a marine towing
service if you need one. Anglers use channels 68 and 69 heavily for routine
communications while fishing.
A fish finder, although not necessary for safety, is very helpful for locating
fish and structure in what can seem like an endless expanse on the lake.
A navigational aid is a very important safety aid, as well as an asset to
successful fishing. Until recently, most boats on the lake were equipped with a
loran, which is a land based radio wave positioning system. It is relatively
accurate and can return you to port or your fishing hot spot with ease. Lorans
use their own numbering system rather than longitude and latitude coordinates.
Anglers using lorans often describe their position as "28880.1 on the top,
58357.7 on the bottom," referring to the top and bottom loran coordinates of
their location. Lorans are being replaced by the GPS, and the loran transmitters
will be turned off sooner or later, rendering the loran useless. The GPS, or
global positioning system, is an even more accurate, satellite based positioning
system. It displays location using longitude and latitude coordinates. Like the
loran, the GPS can store numerous "way points", such as home port and fishing
hot spots. You can then call up a way point, and the GPS will tell you which
direction to go to get there. It also provides much more information, such as
how fast you are going, how long it will take you to get to your destination,
how far off course you have gone, etc.
Finding your way on the lake can be difficult. If you motor out to deep water
with only a compass, then troll about for several hours, using only a compass to
return to port will be difficult and very inaccurate. If the waves suddenly pick
up and you have to return quickly and directly, or if a fog bank rolls in and
you cannot see more than 20 feet from your bow, a loran or a GPS will be worth
every cent you paid to get you home safely.
Many boats equipped for fishing on Lake Erie also have a planer board mast (to
run planer boards), two or more downriggers (manual or electric), multiple
stand-up rod holders, a sizable cooler with ice, and a large, long handled net.
Other items to consider taking on your boat include a map of the lake, a first
aid kit, binoculars, sun glasses and sun screen (there is no shade on the lake),
rain gear, an extra jacket, a good anchor with plenty of line, sea sickness
medicine, hook extractors and a fish "club."
Remember that all boats on Lake Erie 16 feet in length and over must carry
visual distress signals. All boats require visual distress signals if on the
water between sunset and sunrise. Before leaving for a trip on the lake, review
the boating regulations and your gear to be certain you have all the necessary
equipment and leave a float plan.
Lake Rods, Reels and Line
Most anglers use similar rods and reels on the lake for trolling or drift
fishing for all the larger species. (Perch fishing uses much smaller rods and
reels and lighter line). The common rod is a relatively long (about 8 feet)
trolling rod in the 10 to 20 pound line class. If you plan to use a diver,
especially a dipsey diver, use a diver rod with a strong lower section that can
withstand the strong pull of the diver. Many regular rods will break just above
the handle if used with a diver.
By far the most common reel for trolling is the level wind reel. The Penn 310
and 320 are still popular. Reels with line counters are becoming popular. These
reels allow you to more accurately set lines on divers and planer boards.
Line used for trolling varies. The most common lines used are from 12 pound to
17 pound test. Light lining is becoming more popular, but is still not
widespread. Twenty pound line is not uncommon, especially for use with divers.
Trolling and Trolling Methods
Flatlining is the simplest of the trolling methods. It consists of sending a
lure out as you troll away. Once the lure reaches the desired distance behind
the boat, close the bail and let the lure pull behind the boat. Line counter
reels are very helpful for determining how far back the lure is running. The
depth of the lure can be controlled by the type of lure used. Deep diving lures,
equipped with large lips, can be pulled to depths of 15 feet or more.
Planer boards are used to fish close to the surface, but away from the noise and
disturbance of the boat. A planer board mast, planer boards and releases are all
necessary. A typical mast has two lines and two spools, one for each side. The
planer boards (usually made of redwood) are hooked to the end of the line
connected to the mast. As the board is let out on the water, it "planes" away
from the boat. One board planes right, the other left. The boards often are
equipped with a flag so they can be located while in use.
Once the boards are out, each line is set. A lure is sent off the boat and
allowed to drift the desired distance it will be fished behind the planer board
line. Once the desired distance is obtained, the bail is closed. A release is
connected to the planer board line. One end of the release slides along the
planer board line, and the other end has a rubber clip for grabbing the fishing
line. Some anglers use rubber bands tied around the line, which are then placed
into the release. The line from the rod is pinched on the release clip, the bail
is opened, and the line begins to slide down the planer board line and away from
the boat. Once the line is the desired distance down the planer board line and
away from the boat, the bail is again closed and the rod is put in an upright
holder. While the rod is connected to the planer board line, the fishing line
goes sideways to the planer board line release, then back behind the boat. When
a fish strikes, the line releases and the line whips to a position straight back
from the boat.
Planer boards are popular for walleye fishing early in the summer, when the
water is colder and the fish are closer to the surface. It allows you to put
multiple lines out on both sides of the boat without tangling them as easily as
you would if they were all straight behind the boat. Planer boards are also used
to troll for smallmouth and to troll for steelhead close to shore in the fall.
Use of planer boards for walleye fishing has been diminishing in recent years,
and been replaced in popularity with Dipsy Divers.
Divers are gaining in popularity on Lake Erie. They are somewhere between
flatlining or using planer boards, and using downriggers. The diver takes the
lure down deeper than a flat line, but cannot reach the depths or the depth
accuracy of a downrigger. Divers do, though, have the ability to get the lure
down a considerable depth, and get the lure away from the boat. Divers often
plane to one side, allowing multiple lines to be fished across the back and
sides of the boat. They are also less expensive than downriggers.
Divers come in a variety of styles. The Dipsey Diver is the most popular. Other
divers include the Fish Seeker and the Jons Diver. With most divers, a short
piece of line is prepared with a snap swivel on each end. One end is connected
to the diver, and the lure is attached to the other end. The length of this line
will determine the distance the lure will run behind the diver. The end of the
line from the reel is connected to the front of the diver. The diver usually has
a release that must be closed so the unit dives down when set into the water.
The rig is then sent over and allowed to dive down, back, and sometimes to the
side. Some divers can be set to adjust the angle they will plane to the side of
the boat, allowing divers to be set to plane right and left behind the boat. The
depth they dive is determined by how far they are let out behind the boat. For
this reason, a line counter helps to return the diver in the same general
When a fish strikes the lure, the release is opened and the diver planes toward
Some anglers use divers and planer boards. The lines are set out on divers, the
sent out the planer board line to get them further apart. This allows fishing a
multitude of lines both down and away from the boat.
Downriggers are used for accurately getting a lure to any depth. This requires a
downrigger and a downrigger weight with an attached release. Downriggers come in
both manual and electric models. The electric models wind the weight up and down
automatically. The downrigger has a wire line on a spool, a swivel base, a mast
which extends the wire over the water, and a heavy snap swivel on the end of the
wire line. Manual models have a handle to crank the wire line up and down. A
large downrigger weight is connected to the swivel on the end of the wire line.
The weight has a release connected to it. The release has a rubber clip for
grabbing the fishing line.
The fishing line and lure are sent over the boat and allowed to run out the
distance you want the lure to travel behind the release. The bail is then
closed. The downrigger mast and weight are swung toward the boat. The fishing
line is then connected to the release on the weight. The bail on the fishing
reel is opened, the weight is put over the water, and the steel downrigger line
is let out. The weight, with the fishing line attached to the release, begins to
drop nearly straight down. The downrigger has a depth counter so you can see how
far it is going down. When the desired depth is obtained, the downrigger is
stopped, and the bail on the fishing line is closed. The rod is put into the
holder attached to the downrigger. The rod will be bent over hard, since the
line is connected to the release which is nearly straight down below the boat.
The line should be tight, but no so tight that it pulls the line out of the
When a fish strikes, it pulls the line out of the release. Since there is
considerable tension on the rod when connected to the release, the downrigger
"sets the hook" when it releases. The rod suddenly stands up when a fish is on.
Multiple lines can be stacked on a single downrigger line. To stack lines, one
fishing line is connected to the release on the weight in the normal manner. Let
the downrigger down the distance you want the two lines to be apart. Once this
distance is reached, stop the downrigger and close the bail on the first reel.
Attached the stacker, which consists of a wire line with a safety clip (put over
the downrigger line) and a rubber release on each end. One release attaches to
the steel downrigger line. The second release is attached to the second fishing
line you wish fish off the downrigger. You must then open the bails on both
reels, and send the rig down the remaining distance. Doing this single-handedly
is nearly impossible.
Weighted spinners (willow leafs)
The willow leaf spinner - nightcrawler harness is one of the most popular rigs
used on Lake Erie for taking walleye. This rig normally consists of two
relatively large hooks tied one atop the other, with a willow blade clasped
above the hooks, on a longer heavy line with a loop at the top end. A
nightcrawler is put through both hooks. An elliptical weight with a ring on each
end is connected to the top of the rig through the loop in the line at the upper
end of the rig. A swivel on the end of the fishing line is connected to the
other end of the weight. As it moves through the water, the willow leaf spins.
All the local bait shops carry these rigs, which are often called a "walleye
harness" or a "crawler harness."
The rig is fished by trolling or drifting. It is often fished near the bottom.
In water of 60 feet or more, a four ounce weight may be necessary to get the rig
to the bottom. Let the line out until you feel the weight hit the bottom (it is
not as easy as it sounds). Close the bail, then wind the line up at least a few
cranks. Either hold the rod or put it in a rod holder.
This rig can also be fished part way down, or with a weight that will not get it
to the bottom. It can also be fished on a downrigger or planer without any
weight. It can also be fished with a small weight (enough to keep it down) from
Lake Erie Sport Fish & Fishing Methods
Lake Erie produces large walleye. Most fish are over the 15 inch minimum. The
average walleye caught off shore is in the three to five pound range. Seven and
eight pound walleye are not uncommon. The smaller fish are better table fare,
although generally walleye make an excellent eating fish, second only to the
yellow perch. The average age of walleye found in our waters is five to six
years. Some walleye have been found to be twelve years old.
Walleye are considered sensitive to light. Generally they will not be near the
surface on a bright day. At night, they may be just below the surface. Walleye
are not as temperature sensitive as other fish, like the steelhead. Walleye may
be holding in different temperature zones. Walleye are considered a schooling
fish - if you find one, you may have found a whole school.
It is said there are two distinct walleye populations: the "resident" population
of generally large fish that stay here all year and are often closer to shore,
and the "migrating" population that moves into our waters during the summer and
early fall. The resident walleye are the fish that are caught in the spring and
early summer at night or closer to shore. The migrating population stays in the
shallower western basin of Lake Erie in the winter and spring. As the water
temperature of the lake rises, these fish begin to move east into the deeper
waters of the central and eastern basins of Lake Erie. This is why the walleye
fishing is often best each summer first off Ashtabula, then Conneaut, then in
the Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie. The faster the water temperatures warm,
the sooner the walleye fishing gets better. In summers when the water
temperature never gets into the 70s, walleye fishing can be be slow even in
Spring Fishing from Shore at Night
The common method for shore fishing for walleye at night in the spring is as
follows. Fishing is only possible when the lake is calm or nearly calm. The
fishing starts around dusk, and continues all night (or so they say). The areas
near the mouths of the creeks that are stocked with steelhead are the most
popular. (For some reason, at Walnut Creek, the walleye often appear in the lake
by the east end of the parking lot, not right at the mouth). Also popular is the
public dock area (Dobbins Landing) on State Street in the bay. Most anglers wade
into the water. Most use a medium to long spinning rod and medium sized spinning
reel with relatively light line (about 6 pound test). By far the most popular
lure is a floating Rapalla. Most cast a medium to large (size 7) stick bait.
Many use a lure that resembles a rainbow trout (to look like the steelhead
fingerling). The lure is thrown as far as possible out into the lake, then
retrieved slowly back to shore. If a cruising walleye hits, especially an eight
pounder, you will certainly know it. Most fishing is very quiet, and the anglers
try to minimize the amount of light hitting the water.
Most walleye fishing during the summer is done offshore. Trolling is by far the
most popular method. About two m.p.h. is considered the ideal speed to troll for
walleye. Early in the season, when the lake is still warming, the fish are
generally closer to the surface. During these times, trolling with planer boards
or flatlining with a diving lure is popular. As the lake warms, the walleye hold
deeper. By late July and August, the fish can be found all the way to the
bottom. If the fish are holding part-way down, divers and downriggers work best.
If the fish are on or near the bottom, willow leaf rigs with weights and
downriggers work best.
Walleye can also be taken by drift fishing if the conditions are right. This
method generally works only if the boat will maintain a reasonable drift speed.
Still fishing for walleye is generally not productive. Jigging for walleye is
not common on Lake Erie. The most popular method for drift fishing is to use a
willow leaf nightcrawler rig fished near the bottom. Let the rig drift with the
boat and bob with the waves. If a fish strikes, act fast - there is nothing to
set the hook but you. If you have not experienced drift fishing, give it a try -
it can be a calm and pleasant alternative to listening to the constant groan of
the trolling motor.
Although most walleye fishing is done during the daylight hours, fishing for
walleye at night can also be quite productive.
The willow leaf spinner / nightcrawler rig is very popular on the lake. The
local bait shops carry these rigs, or they can be made at home. No one lure is
most popular for walleye fishing. Popular lures include spoons (the NK spoons
are popular) and stick baits (including Rapallas, Storms, Bagleys and Hot
-N-Tots). Deep diving plugs are used with flatlines and planer boards.
Yellow perch are fished both commercially and recreationally on Lake Erie. The
creel limit on perch has been reduced, and the minimum size is now eight inches.
For further information, see the
are perhaps the best table fish Lake Erie has to offer.
Perch are schooling fish. If you can find a school, the fishing can be
productive. If you spot a number of boats close together and anchored, you can
bet they are all perch fishing.
Perch in the lake can be found from a depth of about 20 feet to deeper than 60
feet. One of the most popular spots for perch is off the Peninsula lighthouse in
about 40 to 50 feet of water.
Almost all perch fishing on Lake Erie is done the same way. Boats are at anchor
and still fish. By far the most popular bait for perch is a live minnow. A light
line with a small hook and enough weight to get the bait down is sent over the
side. Perch are usually near the bottom, so the bait is sent to the bottom, then
cranked up a few turns.
Although Lake Erie holds substantial and sizable smallmouth bass, surprisingly
few anglers target the smallmouth. Although largemouth bass can be found in
Presque Isle Bay, there are no largemouth in the open waters of the lake.
As explained above, Lake Erie is now designated a "big bass" water. Until
mid-June, only one smallmouth bass may taken, and it must be over 20 inches.
This regulation is designed to allow the bass to get through the spawning season
with minimal fishing pressure. Once this early season is over, the current size
limit for bass is still 15 inches. For further information, see the
Even for Lake Erie, a 15 inch bass is substantial, and many smallmouth that are
caught are under the size limit and must be immediately returned to the lake
Smallmouth are aggressive fighters and pound for pound, probably the most
exciting fish to catch on the lake. They often jump out of the water or dive
below the boat. If it's fighting like crazy and your not sure what you just
caught, it's probably a smallmouth or a steelhead.
Like most other places where this fish can be found, smallmouth tend to hold
over some type of structure. Structure is not common in the generally smooth
bottom of Lake Erie. On the west side, smallmouth are usually in the 20 to 35
foot range, before the bottom smoothes off and very gradually slopes deeper.
East of the channel is more popular for bass, since it has more structure.
Popular spots on the east side for smallmouth bass include the "cribs" off the
Hammermill plant, and off Raccoon Creek Park. Look in the 20 to 30 foot range
for bottom structure and you should be in smallmouth territory.
Smallmouth are taken by a variety of methods and with a variety of baits and
lures. Some out-of-towners use traditional bass boats and fish as though they
were in a reservoir or river. This can be quite dangerous, as these boats are
not designed for the fury Lake Erie can dish up unexpectedly. If you use a bass
boat on the lake, use common sense, stay close to shore, watch the weather and
be prepared to run for harbor if the waves pick up.
Smallmouth can be taken like perch - by still fishing (or drifting) using a
minnow fished near the bottom. Worms and nightcrawlers generally are not a good
bait - they will catch far more sheephead than bass. Smallmouth can also be
taken by the traditional method of casting a lure. However, the fish may be
holding in more than 20 feet of water, so you must get the lure deep enough to
present it to the fish. Smallmouth can also be taken by trolling.
Steelhead and Salmon
As described in the Stream
page, Lake Erie holds steelhead, salmon and brown trout. Steelhead
are by far the most predominate. Coho salmon and brown trout are stocked but in
far smaller numbers. Occasionally Chinook salmon are caught in the Pennsylvania
waters of Lake Erie, but they are not common and their origin is often debated.
A trout stamp is needed to take these fish. See the
page for more
Steelhead, like the smallmouth bass, are aggressive fighters, especially in the
relatively warm waters of the lake. Although not considered as good a table fare
as the walleye or perch, steelhead, salmon and trout taken from the lake can be
quite good eating if properly prepared.
Members of the trout and salmon family are cold water fish, and are temperature
sensitive. The optimum temperature for steelhead is 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and
they tend to hold in water close to this temperature.
There are two distinct steelhead and salmon fishing opportunities on lake. In
the fall, steelhead and salmon begin to school off the mouths of the creeks, and
they can be caught just off shore. In the summer and early fall, these fish are
scattered in the deeper waters of the lake and can be taken by traditional
Deep water steelhead and salmon are taken almost exclusively by trolling. Most
concentrated fishing for steelhead and salmon is done at the mountain, where the
water is the deepest. These fish do not school while in the deeper waters during
the summer months, and are sometimes described as an "incidental" catch during
walleye fishing. A trolling speed of about three m.p.h., faster than the speed
of normal trolling for walleye, is considered typical for steelhead and salmon.
Steelhead, salmon and brown trout are usually taken with downriggers or divers.
Since they are rarely near the surface when far from shore, they are not usually
caught with planer boards or on flat lines. The most popular lure for steelhead
and salmon trolling is the spoon, run very close to the downrigger line or
diver. Stickbaits on downriggers or divers will also take these fish.
Fishing for steelhead and salmon in the fall near the mouths is done quite
differently. Occasionally boats will anchor near the mouth of a creek and cast
spoons (of the casting type, like a Little Cleo, not the trolling type). Most
who fish from boats near the shore troll. These anglers use either planer boards
or flat lines. Downriggers can be used if you are in deep enough water. Many try
to troll in very shallow water (sometimes less than 15 feet), and lures can be
caught on the bottom if you are not careful. In the peak of the fall steelhead
season, the water off the creek mouths can become crowded with boats trolling
and weaving past one another. Be considerate when deciding whether to send
planer boards 75 feet away from each side of your boat in crowded conditions.
The angler's lines you cross may not look with favor on your methods.
Lake trout are native to Lake Erie. They mature far more slowly than steelhead
and salmon, and large lake trout can be more than ten years old. Because lake
trout mature so slowly, there is a reduced creel limit for these fish on Lake
Erie. A trout stamp is needed to take these fish. See the
page for more
information. Although not typically caught for eating, their size can make them
a trophy fish.
Although lake trout can be found anywhere in the lake, they are far more common
east of the City of Erie. Most lake trout are taken around or at the mountain by
boats departing from the North East Marina.
Lake trout are usually found on or near the bottom. Nearly all lake trout are
taken by trolling a spoon off a downrigger close to the bottom. Typical troll
speeds for lake trout are about two m.p.h. or slower.