Fall Prime Time To Fish Lake Erie

By D'Arcy Egan, The Plain Dealer

"You can catch bass just about any time of year on Lake Erie. If you're after trophy bass, the ones that jack up your pulse after you set the hook, October is prime time."

Joe Balog knows Lake Erie's rock piles and reefs, the humps and bumps that are home to hungry smallmouth bass.

"I've been fishing these areas since I was a kid growing up in Brecksville," said Balog, 34, whose top national tournament wins have come on Lake Erie. "You can catch bass just about any time of year on Lake Erie. If you're after trophy bass, the ones that jack up your pulse after you set the hook, October is prime time."

Balog now lives in Harrison Township, Mich., traveling the country to compete in bass tournaments and appear at fishing seminars and shows. More often than not, his down time is spent on the bow of his Ranger boat, casting for bass or hunting ducks. A fishing invitation from Balog is an opportunity to learn new bass-catching tricks. Always on the cutting edge, Balog takes pride in fishing with the latest in angling electronics and fishing tackle.

Boating Around Lake Erie

"Drop shot rigs are the key right now," said Balog as he backed his Ranger boat down the Mazurik launch ramp on Marblehead. "And Pelee Island is the place to be. The Bass Islands and Kelleys Island will light up in the coming weeks, and the Ohio shoreline from Huron to Lorain is pretty darn good in the fall."

By the time we arrived at the Wagon Wheel reef complex on the west side of Pelee Island, southwesterly winds had begun to pick up. Balog had to focus on controlling the boat with a bow-mounted electric motor as I struggled to keep the sinker on my drop shot rig in contact with the rocky bottom.

The smallmouth bass were cooperating, but waves began to crash over the bow of the boat. We decided to escape the wind and try the north shore of Pelee Island. The bass were usually smaller there, said Balog, the only time he was wrong all day. His first bass was a stout fish that weighed a shade under 6 pounds.

The bass move to shallower waters as Lake Erie cools down in October, and become more aggressive," said Balog. "The bass that are fairly scattered in the summer begin to group up for the winter. If you catch one, there should be a few more in the same area."

Bass fishermen complain that the prime areas along the Huron and Vermilion shorelines aren't the hot spots of past years. Balog believes the smallmouth bass are around but have changed their habits.

"You might catch one smallmouth bass from a good spot off Vermilion in summer," he said. "In the middle of October, after the water temperature drops into the low 50s, the same spot may be holding 50 fish."

Identifying Structure

Balog had the latest in electronics on the dash, a Hummingbird side scan sonar unit. The side scan sonar showed him the piles of rock and rubble as far as 50 feet away on each side of the boat, and sometimes bass hovering around the rocks.

"Identifying structure is the big key," said Balog. "The side scan unit has been a shortcut to success."

Smallmouth Fishery

Balog enjoys a perch or walleye dinner, but smallmouth bass are precious. Every one is handled gently with wet hands and quickly released.

"Lake Erie's smallmouth bass are so pressured, and the big ones are becoming increasingly hard to catch," said Balog. "The fisheries biologists checking smallmouth bass at the FLW tournament in Cleveland in 2005 found the average trophy bass caught was about 9 years old. Some were 14 years old.

"We've got to protect our bass in order to have great fishing in the future."