Winter bass fishing can be good
As 2021 ended, Lake Erie water temperatures were still hovering around the 40-degree mark in the eastern basin of the lake off Buffalo. For bass lovers like Capt. Jeff Hippert of Lake Erie Trophy Bass Charters (716-422-0026) based out of Hamburg, any decent weather day on the lake is a perfect excuse to hit the water. As luck would have it, he had four days of it.
Whether you call it late season or early season fishing (because the action continued into 2022), Hippert and some of his bass head pals (like Destin DeMarion from Harbor Creek, Pennsylvania; Bailey Eigbrett from Williamsville; and Brad Brodnicki of Buffalo) hit the local waters to see if there might be some active bronzebacks looking for a tussle. It was a hands-down shout out – YES! Are you ready to rumble?
Lake Erie is often regarded as one of the top smallmouth fisheries in the world. The waters within 30 miles of Buffalo are regularly ranked in the Top 10 by Bassmasters for the northeast and the country. At least, when the weather cooperates.
The lake is also looked at differently by DEC fisheries biologists within the state. This time of year, the season is catch and release only in most of New York starting Dec. 1. However, for Lake Erie, the season is open for one fish per person per day with a minimum size of 20 inches long from Dec. 1 to the opening of the regular season in June. Very few people keep bass anymore. During a recent creel census on the lake, less than 2 percent of bass caught were harvested.
For Hippert and company, they boated over 300 bass in four days. Their best day was 180 smallies. This is exceptional and it’s important to note they were all released unharmed, targeting rock piles in 32-38 feet of water, from Sturgeon Point to Buffalo.
One recent trip on the lake, launching out of Sturgeon Point, he caught 45 to 50 bass along with several perch and walleye. Most of the fish were in the depth range of 35 to 38 feet of water. The fish came on a ¼ to ½-ounce chrome blade bait, but he did catch fish on a ½-ounce jigging spoon and a swim bait. With the blades or the spoons, silver and gold are good go-to colors when the water is slightly stained. If the water visibility is 1-foot or less, go with a scented bait. In addition to the blade baits and spoons, he was also having some great success on Ned rigs using a green pumpkin plastic in the 3-4-inch size.
Your presentation should be very fished very slow because bass are sight feeders. Fish caught were between 3 and 4 pounds in size, along with 8 to 10 over five pounds on this day. It’s a great time to catch a personal best, too.
Many of the fish he caught for him were on a Shimano Core baitcasting reel with 12-pound test fluorocarbon line on a 7 to 7-1/2-foot Dobbins or G-Loomis rod that are medium-heavy action, great for jigging blades or spoons. He also uses a Shimano Stradic 2500 spinning reel with a Dobbins spinning rod in 6-1/2 to 7-1/2-foot size that has an action that’s medium light to medium with an extra fast tip.
The line is Daiwa J braid in 10-pound test for a main line with Berkley fluorocarbon line in 8-pound test as a leader (about 6-foot). He uses this for swim baits, tubes, Ned rigs or for drop shotting. For his swim bait colors, he likes to “match the hatch” so primarily he uses Emerald shiners, gizzard shad, yellow perch, smelt and goby colors with his plastics.
Some of these same tactics and techniques work in the spring, too, so keep this in mind when April and May roll around. In the meantime, Hippert is going to have to take a bit of a break from bass fishing. A lake effect snowstorm was drawing a bead on Hamburg and he was expecting nearly 2 feet of snow as this was being written.