Feeling fish drunk

Last week we talked about what a great smallmouth fishery Lake Erie is, and how it appears to be extending into the future. All that was true at the time but I might have spoken too soon. I’m over on Lake Ontario, and it might be even better. I’m catching smallies to the point where I feel fish drunk. It’s unbelievable.

I can remember way back when to a time when a 15- to 17-pound bag was considered big. You could win with weights like that. Not anymore. It’ll take someone pushing 25 pounds to be competitive now. (True, you might get a check with less, but you probably won’t win.)

There are a couple of reasons for that in my opinion. First, there are more fish and they’re bigger. The environmental programs that have been put in place throughout the Great Lakes have made a huge difference. Modern day fish live in a better neighborhood with cleaner water. Don’t kid yourself. That makes a difference.

And the smallmouth eat better, too. The goby population has exploded. They’re easy prey for brown bass, and apparently quite nutritious. At least it looks like it from this end of things.

Secondly, we fish more efficiently. New depthfinders with side imaging have made a world of difference in our ability to fish deep. Most of my fish over the past few days have been caught in the 22- to 32-foot range. That’s pretty deep if you stop to think about it.

We can find spots now that we didn’t know existed just a few years ago. At the same time we can mark them and drop a bait right on top of them days, months or even years later. That’s huge.

Modern tackle has made a big difference, too. Our tackle, especially our line, just wasn’t good enough to feel a bite at 30 feet, set the hook, and fight a bass all the way to the surface.

My purpose in writing about all this is to encourage recreational anglers to consider a trip to the Great Lakes. There’s nowhere else on the planet where you can catch the size and the numbers of smallmouth bass.

One thing you should keep in mind, however, is that the fish are somewhat different in the two lakes. On Erie there are fewer small bass. They exist but not in numbers that will cause you trouble.

That’s not true on Ontario. If you fish the wrong spot on Ontario, you can catch a boatload of little bass — some of them less than a pound. If you hit a school like that, you’ll have to move if you want to catch the bigger ones. I have no idea why that is, but it’s something you should keep in mind when you schedule your trip, as I hope you will do.

Go get ‘em!