Playing hunches can pay off big time in fishing even though they sometimes require decisions that go

Playing hunches can pay off big time in fishing even though they sometimes require decisions that go against the grain.

After a relatively good day on Lake Erie last Friday, I decided to spend my time on the water Saturday looking for something a little bit different. My hunch proved to be right on target.

Friday had produced lots of decent smallmouth bass, but none of the 4-plus-pounders for which the waters east of Erie, Pa., are famous. I’d been working over hard bottoms in the 18- to 22-foot range and catching 2-pounders.

Saturday dawned with a brisk southwesterly breeze. The ride out to the spot on which I had decided to start was bouncy thanks to 2-foot waves. Conditions seemed perfect, as Erie smallies tend to amp up their activity when the occasional whitecap is breaking.

My first drift failed to produce a fish. That’s when I played my hunch and set up for another drift, this time on a course that took me over a rise that topped out at 13 feet.

As my tube jig hit the sweet spot, the rod loaded up and I jerked the hook into a 4-pound smallie. It cartwheeled out of the water and dove to the bottom where it fought stubbornly for a few moments. The fish surfaced again near the boat and bulldogged just out of net range forever.

I finally dragged the smallie aboard and admired its powerful physique. Lake Erie bronzebacks are muscle from mouth to tail, with thick backs and bulging bellies.

The next two passes resulted in a pair of 3-pounders, and my hunch was paying off handsomely. I tried several times to expand my area by exploring deeper water, but it was that magical 13-foot-deep spot that proved to be most reliable.

As the clock passed noon, I recalled another 13-foot hump I’d saved on my GPS. Something in my head told me to check it out before heading back to the launch ramp.

It took 15 minutes to drive to the new spot, plenty of time for me to draft a game plan for approaching it without spooking any fish that might be hiding down there. With the boat positioned so the wind would blow me over the hump, I tossed out my tube jig and almost immediately had a hook-up.

Halfway to the boat, however, the battling bass pulled free. But an instant later, another fish grabbed it. Smallmouth anglers are familiar with this phenomenon, as a school of bass often is triggered to feed when one of their brethren is fighting. It’s a good sign that active bass are in the vicinity.

Next pass produced a big smallie, and the ensuing drift yielded another. Finally, with my time running out, I hooked and landed my biggest bass of the day, a fish that pulled the scale to 5.6 pounds.

More about Erie safety

Reader Bob Gillette e-mailed me after last Saturday’s column with additional counsel for Lake Erie boating safety. He offered his own set of rules:

Rule 1: Ditch those cheap life jackets and get enough Type I PFDs for everyone aboard — and be sure they know how to don them correctly.

Rule 2: Get a current marine weather report by TV, VHF or Internet before you leave the dock.

Rule 3: Watch the sky (as well as nearby boaters). Look for clouds of an approaching front, and on hot, muggy days, look for the mushroom cloud of a late-day thunderstorm. Be alert to shifts in wind and air temperature.

Rule 4. When in doubt, head for the harbor.

Rule 5: Do all of this as a matter of routine, so you can have fun on the water rather than worry about storms.

Well said, Bob.

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