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Smallmouth Bass Fishing on Lake Erie and how to avoid the Gobies

Smallmouth Bass Fishing on Lake Erie and how to avoid the Gobies Smallmouth Bass Fishing on Lake Erie and how to avoid the Gobies
By Dave Adams

As anglers, we are outmanned and under gunned to deal with such an adversary. The round goby has us flanked on all sides. Nevertheless, by understanding this invader - the battle can be won.

The Goby
Foremost, let's begin by studying this intruder from the Black and Caspian seas. The round goby first appeared in Lake Superior's Duluth/Superior harbor in 1995. The most likely cause of origin is that the fish arrived in the ballast water of a trans-oceanic ship (currently the U.S.C.G. requires all ships to exchange ballast water before entering the St. Lawrence). The goby is capable of rapid population growth. Spawning repeatedly during the summer, a female can produce up to 5,000 eggs. Most surprising is that the diet of the goby not only includes fish eggs and insects, but also zebra mussels.

Now, how do we as anglers, armed with only a small lure or dead minnow, present this set-up to the smallmouth bass, which has an army of gobies surrounding them? The answer is water temperature.

Early Bass Season
When the water temperature is under 50 degrees (mid April 'till mid-May) gobys let their defenses down. Also, at this time, bass are in a pre-spawn feeding frenzy. A direct ground frontal assault with live bait or Gitzits will work well. Larger shiners, jigs, leeches, or crawlers can be used. My favorite weapon is a slow drift with the Lindy rig equipped with a leech, whereas, the brown or red Gitzit is a strong backup.

Mid Season
Once the water reaches 60 degrees (mid-May 'till early June), gobys get aggressive and any attempt at live bait fishing is futile. Since the goby is a bottom dweller, the best flanking maneuver is an aerial assault (trolling plugs) - this will allow anglers to bypass the front line of the goby defense. During this time, trolling is, by far, the most productive tactic. A favorite setup is the 3 1/2 inch Thunderstick (darker colors) or 2-1/2 inch Shad Rap (black/silver). Concentrate trolling efforts in the 20 to 25 foot depths. With a lead of 35 to 50 feet and using eight-pound line, both the Thunderstick and Shad Rap will reach a trolling depth of 10 to 12 feet. This will keep the lure just above the gobys.

Summer Bassin
Around mid-June 'till the end of July, bass fishing is best. The bass are hungry enough to beat the nasty goby to most live bait set-ups, and trolling will produce phenomenal bass action. You will catch your share of gobies, but the bass action will more than make up for the aggravation of loosing a minnow or two.

Where to go
When looking for a spot to fish, two areas generally hold more than the average amount of bass. The first location is four miles east of Presque Isle Bay. Two concrete pilings, situated approximately one half-mile offshore, can be used as a marker. Depending on wind direction, keep all drifts to the east of that marker. The second area (nicknamed the "W's" for the water trails cut in the cliff) is three miles west of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission marina at North East PA. Use the cliffs as a center point for all drifts. Both areas have gradual sloping rocky bottoms and packs of boats will be present. Start in 12 feet of water and work to 45 feet.

Lodging, Marinas, and Boat Slippage
Boat anglers, seeking lodging, ramps, overnight boat slip rental, or public ramps can find up-to-date information at this web site. If the lake kicks up, Presque Isle Bay offers the best escape route. And the North East marina offers the shortest boat ride to the fish, as well as overnight slip rental.

Wrap Up
Cold water fishing translates to big bass and few gobys; moreover, warm water means you must battle gobys. If you want a trophy bass - fish April until mid-May with live bait or gitzits. From mid-May until mid-June, troll or cast any artificial lure, but stay off the lake bottom. Once the regular bass seasons opens on June 16 and even with the goby presence, the fishing is good with all the conventional tactics.

Just as Lake Erie has seen many changes - the bass angler must also change. Even though the round goby does make fishing difficult at times, I feel that the big water is still the number one smallmouth bass water in the world.

Good Fishing,
Capt. Dave Adams

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GregP | Posted: July 11, 2010

There is another tactic that works well: if you catch a goby on bait and it isn't longer than 3 inches or so, leave it on the hook and drop it back in: if you're fishing for smallmouth, a goby is as good a live bait as any other.

ken | Posted: May 29, 2009

I just really agree. You can fish with live bait all season but you just need to spend the money on large golden shiner or similarly large bait. You can also use large tube gigs all year. Trolling for bass is for losers. It takes all the fun out of it.