The incredible smallmouth bass fishery of Lake Erie may not be a secret, but it’s not like you are going to run into an onslaught of smallmouth fisherman around the Bass Islands. This is a pursuit you can undertake without competition.
The Bass Islands are known for parties. So two fellas toting backpacks armed with fly rods standing in line for the Miller Ferry are going to draw some attention to themselves. That’s exactly what happened when my friend “Paddle Don” and I ventured to Middle Bass Island in search of shoreline smallmouth on the fly.
The Bass Islands are the hub of the Lake Erie Islands archipelago. Along with the Bass Islands, Kelley’s Island, Pelee Island, and several others make up the chain. The Bass Islands and most of the others are in Ohio, but Pelee Island and other smaller islands are in Ontario. If you are fishing by boat, you must remain aware of which country you are in order to be properly licensed.
About 10 years ago, I ventured to the Sandusky, Ohio area to visit Cedar Point Amusement Park. After learning about Put-In-Bay, an old girlfriend and I decided to ride the ferry to South Bass Island and check it out. What we found was a bustling nightlife in a neat, clean island setting. Calling Put-In-Bay the Key West of the Great Lakes is the best comparison I can come up with.
With a deep affection for islands, mainly stemming from my love of Lake Michigan’s Beaver Island, I’m always excited by the prospect of an island-based adventure. The incredible smallmouth bass fishery of Lake Erie may not be a secret, but it’s not like you are going to run into an onslaught of smallmouth fisherman around the Bass Islands. This is a pursuit you can undertake without competition. So conceptually, I figured a trip to the Bass Islands to stalk smallmouth would be both a unique and exciting adventure. My goal was to simply enjoy all the area has to offer as far as tourism and fishing. The trip turned out awesome on both accounts.
Since South Bass Island is home to Put-In-Bay, it’s by far more or a tourist destination than Middle and North Bass Islands. This is not a bad thing. In fact, Put-In-Bay is great, but Paddle Don and I were traveling on the cheap and staying in tents so we opted for the more remote seclusion of Middle Bass Island. We camped at the state park where campsites were primitive, but the marina was beautiful with great shower facilities. Traveling to the island by private boat is quite popular, and if one wanted to do so, they could camp at the state park and have wonderful facilities.
Once on the island, we rented a golf cart from JF Walleyes, the main eatery and watering hole on Middle Bass. For the next two days we cruised around with our fishing gear loaded on the golf cart. We caught a few funny stares from folks wondering about the fellas in waders. When we found a promising spot, we waded out into the water and commenced to catching smallies. Most of the water around the shore of Middle Bass is accessible and easy to wade. Certain stretches are home to shallow flats that allow you to venture a hundred yards or more off shore. We picked up quite a few nice bass early and late on these flats.
At one point, we were driving through a cluster of houses when a man waved us down. We pulled over and struck up a conversation. He was actually born and raised on the island and writes for the local newspaper. His intrigued for what we were doing led him to invite us into a private area of the island called the Middle Bass Club, which consists of a group of exquisite homes arranged on a peninsula. He showed us to his favorite fishing hole and explained the smallmouth hang just beyond the rocks, maybe 20 yards of shore.
I began casting a Near Nuff crawfish on a sink tip and counting it down. The crashing waves lifted and dropped my line, so it was hard to keep a feel for contact with the bottom, so I used the count to keep me in the zone. It didn’t take long for a smallmouth to hammer my offering, and after the second or third fish, a group of women who had been watching from a porch ventured over to inquire as to mine and Paddle Don’s intent.
Next thing you know, Don and I are seated in padded chairs on a porch with business executives from Cleveland being forced to try this whiskey, sip this scotch, taste this wine and sample that cheese, all of which were far above my norm of middle-class Miller Light and pretzels. Especially funny was the appearance of Paddle Don. He was wearing skin tight neoprene waders with aqua socks over his stocking feet, a sleeveless t-shirt he’s probably had since high school in the 1980s with faded biker tattoos exposed on both of his shoulders, a big boonie hat and bushy goatee. A fish out of water.
See you down the trail…