JACK WOLLITZ Lake Erie bass offer great action
All anglers dream about that once-in-a-lifetime trip to a fishing destination regarded as world-class.
Perhaps it's a jungle river in South America where the peacock bass grow to 20 pounds and tear up sturdy tackle. Or a northwoods wilderness waterway where the pike are long, mean and hungry.
Visiting world-class fisheries is financially out of the question for most of us, however, as we earmark our resources for obligations like groceries, mortgages and college tuition.
But for bass anglers, one such destination is not only affordable, it's practically in our back yard. And April is one of the best times to check it out. Just ask pro bass angler Dave Lefebre.
Today he's making a name for himself as a frontrunner in the United States' two major league professional bass tournament tours. But he grew up on the shore of Lake Erie and fine-tuned his skills on a bass fishery that he regards as second to none.
"Presque Isle Bay and the nearby main body of Lake Erie offer some of the greatest bass fishing you can find anywhere in America," said Lefebre, a resident of Erie, Pa. "The smallmouth fishing is phenomenal in April, and the largemouth fishing in the bays and lagoons is just as good."
The long, sandy peninsula known as Presque Isle juts north and east out of Erie, Pa., creating a natural bay that is lush with milfoil and other aquatic vegetation. A network of bays and lagoons is carved into the peninsula, offering plenty of nooks and crannies for anglers to explore.
And for Youngstown-area anglers, the trip is a brief 90 minutes or so up Ohio 11 and east on Interstate 90 into Pennsylvania.
"April is a great time around Presque Isle," Lefebre said. "Big smallmouths get active out on the main lake and a surprising number of fish move into the bay."
Lefebre said 100-fish days are not uncommon. They often include a mixed bag of lunker smallies and largemouths. "In the early spring, the fluke bite is superb," he said, referring to the soft-plastic jerkbaits that are fished weightless so they dart and dance over the points and pockets in the emerging weedlines. "I like bright colors because the big fish just seem to want to attack them more."
Anglers can venture out on the main lake on days when the weather permits. Out there, they'll often find April smallies in water as shallow as five or 10 feet, cruising the boulder-strewn bottom for emerald shiners, the ubiquitous gobies that arrived here in the bilges of freighters from Europe and other Erie forage fish.
Hit a variety of lures
Main lake smallies will hit a variety of lures, including the popular tube baits, in smoke, green pumpkin or watermelon colors and rigged on 1/8-ounce jig heads. Also productive are hard-body stick baits like Smithwick Rogues, Rapalas and similar lures, along with fast-moving spinnerbaits.
"Also, in April, I love to jig a Crippled Herring spoon. I've caught some of my biggest fish that way."
In the bay, Lefebre favors the aforementioned soft-plastic jerkbaits, but also resorts to pitching jigs and tubes around the milfoil lines.
A guide before he ventured out full-time on the pro bass tours, Lefebre put a client on a smallmouth that weighed 8 pounds, 4 ounces in 2001. His personal best Erie smallmouth was 7 pounds, 14 ounces.
The largemouths don't typically reach such magnum proportions, but Lefebre said the fish often average four pounds in April. And they are plentiful enough to provide action all day.
Those planning an Erie trip should read their Pennsylvania fishing rules carefully. It's a catch-and-release proposition for the most part until the bass season officially opens in mid-June.
Anglers are well-advised to watch the weather. A steady hard blow out of the north will make for miserable conditions, even in the relative shelter of the bay.
But when the weather is stable and mild, the prospects are excellent for an Erie angling experience that will be burned in your memory for years.