The final Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open presented by Allstate heads to Lake Erie out of Sandusky, Ohio, Sept. 24-26, where anglers will compete for cash and prizes and also a berth in 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.
Sept. 17, 2015
Smallmouth Shootout Expected At Lake Erie
SANDUSKY, Ohio — The western shores of Lake Erie are in the midst of a largemouth bass revival, but smallmouth are still expected rule the weigh-ins of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open presented by Allstate finale Sept. 24-26.
“The lake is full, and it hasn’t been for years,” said Bassmaster Elite Series pro Charlie Hartley of Grove City, Ohio. “That really doesn’t affect the smallmouth bite, but the largemouth fishing has been incredible. Lake Erie has become the best largemouth fishery in Ohio, as well as the best smallmouth fishery.
“We have had a couple of 20-pound bags of largemouth weighed in at largemouth-only tournaments lately,” Hartley said. However, largemouth schools are not as numerous as smallmouth, which can hold a hundred bass, he added. In multiday tournaments, it can be hard to consistently catch heavy five-bass limits on a consistent basis.
The Ohio pro predicts Northern Open contenders will need 35 to 36 pounds for two days of fishing to make the Top 12 cut, and 62 pounds to win. And the winner will have to key on smallmouth to reach that total. “There are hundreds of 4-pound largemouth, but there are thousands of 4-pound smallmouth in the lake,” he said.
The lake experienced a massive algal bloom this summer, but Hartley claims it won’t affect the fishing during the Open. “On a calm day the algae was so thick it looked like you had to punch a weight through it,” he said. “The fish are healthy, though, and they live right underneath that stuff.”
Shorter daylight hours and an early frost could trigger the fall feeding spree during competition week. “The fish will start feeding up for the winter,” Hartley said. “On the Great Lakes they have a whole lot of time under the ice, so when the days get shorter, the bass start gorging.”
If the weather cooperates, the first competition day could be a shootout with 20- to 25-pound sacks showing up on the weigh-in stage. “The smallmouth will be leaving their deep-water haunts and making their first couple of steps up the topo lines (from 30 feet into the 15- to 20-foot range),” Hartley said.
Keying on rocks will be paramount to catching smallmouth in this event. “The neat thing about this end of the lake is it is fed by the Detroit River, which has been silted in for thousands of years, so rock is a real high commodity out there,” Hartley said. “You can go for miles and graph nothing but a desert out there, and then you will come across one little rock vein. When you find an isolated set of rocks and are the only human being that knows it exists, it will feed you for a lifetime.”
Gobies are the main forage for Lake Erie smallmouth, so Hartley suggests Open competitors rely on tube baits or drop shot rigs with Berkley Gulp baits in green pumpkin or other goby colors.
Largemouth will be less than 10 feet deep on the grassy main-lake flats and in the bays during the tournament. “We have an extreme amount of grass in Lake Erie thanks to the zebra mussels and global warming, and the largemouth will be utilizing that grass in the marinas and the riprap,” Hartley said. “There will be a frog bite and a punching bite and a ChatterBait bite. The sky is the limit on the largemouth.”
Wind usually causes some troubles for tournaments held here in the fall. “It is the worst time of the year to go to Lake Erie,” Hartley said. “We will probably have a cancelled day (due to wind), but I hope we have none.”
Anglers will take off each day at 7 a.m. ET at the Shelby Street Public Boat Launch. Weigh-ins will be held at 3 p.m. ET at the Shelby Street Public Boat Launch the first two days, with the final weigh-in on Saturday held at the Bass Pro Shops in Rossford, Ohio, at 4:15 p.m.
The local host for the event is the City of Sandusky.