Erie ‘trophy’ smallie now 20 inches

Staff reportDunkirk, N.Y. – For many smallmouth
bass anglers, 20 inches is that elusive target, one that dictates
whether the bronzeback is a true trophy or just another fine
fish.

On Lake Erie next month, it will be a legal standard as well, as
the water’s popular, special trophy smallmouth bass season opens
May 5.

The traditional first-Saturday-in-May to the regular statewide
bass opener Lake Erie offering attracts plenty of bronzeback
anglers looking to catch that fish of a lifetime. Many times, they
do just that.

‘There’s no question, if you’re looking to catch a 20-inch
smallmouth, Lake Erie is the place to go,’ says DEC Fisheries
Bureau Chief Doug Stang. ‘It’s arguably some of the best smallmouth
fishing in the world.’

This season, that fish will have to be 20 inches if you want to
keep it. Under new bass fishing regulations that were highlighted
by a catch-and-release, artificials only season outside the
tradition bass season, Lake Erie’s one-fish trophy bass size limit
jumped from 15 to 20 inches.

The size regulation was arrived at after a unique volley between
DEC officials and anglers, with the fishing community actually
seeking a tighter restriction.

‘Any time the anglers want to be more conservative on a
regulation, we’re going to go with their recommendation,’ Stang
said. ‘We proposed 18 inches; they said, ‘let’s go 20.’ We don’t
expect to have any issues with the new size restriction.’

The 20-inch, one-fish size limit will still allow bass
tournaments to be held on the big water during the trophy season,
but Stang says it will reduce stress on smallmouths. ‘You won’t
have a lot of 18- or 19-inch smallmouths floating around in a live
well because chances are that’s not going to win the tournament,’
he said.

Western New York guide Frank Campbell agreed.

‘I think it’s a good move,’ he said. ‘As far as tournaments, I
think instead of 50 guys bringing in fish, that number will be
reduced greatly. They won’t be keeping a 19-and-a-half-inch fish,
which is 5 pounds out here.

‘I think it creates a true trophy season, which will be nothing
but a positive for the lake.’

This season is shaping up to be another bronzeback bonanza, with
plenty of big fish and a couple of excellent year classes of fish
coming up through the ranks, Stang said.

Lake Erie has been beset by an invasion of round gobies, a small
species of fish that prey on smallmouth eggs. But indications at
this point are the smallmouth population is holding up well.

‘It’s a unique relationship,’ Stang said. ‘Gobies are out there,
and they’re eating smallmouth eggs. But smallmouths like eating
gobies, too, and they seem to have a leg up on the gobies at this
point – they’re more than holding their own.’

The goby numbers have actually influenced angling effort as
well.

‘Who would have thought lure makers would be making patterns
that imitate gobies?’ Lake Erie guide Doug Stein noted. ‘So far,
the goby situation hasn’t been as bad as it appeared it was going
to be. We’re even catching big perch with smaller gobies in
them.’

Stein said he’s looking forward to another blockbuster season on
Lake Erie, a water where 14-inch smallies are almost considered a
nuisance.

‘Most of my clients are looking for that one big fish – 22
inches or even bigger,’ he said. ‘An 18-incher is 3 pounds, a
20-incher is four. And usually it’s no problem finding that size
fish. It’s just a fabulous smallmouth water.’

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