Lake Erie produces some amazing fishing. But that doesn’t mean it is an easy body of water to fish. Braving the ever changing conditions and trying to find 20 inch plus fish in miles of water can frustrate even the most experienced of anglers. That is why I was excited when Ryan Claypool agreed to do an interview about his fishing of Lake Erie out of Buffalo New York. Ryan has been fishing Lake Erie for many years and shares with us his approach to smallmouth bass fishing this famous body of water.
How long have you been fishing Erie out of Buffalo for smallmouth bass?
I have been fishing for Lake Erie bass for about 20 years now…ever since I was 16 and could drive to fish different bodies of water other than the ones I could ride a bike to or hitch a ride to. I was fascinated with the size of the lake and the size and numbers of smallmouth that come out of that lake. I fell in love.
I started fishing from shore as there is lots of access to the lake and Niagara river from several different areas close to Buffalo. I really was introduced to fishing the lake from a boat through a friend, Randy White, who was my college roommate/teammate in baseball. His father had a boat he let us take out on the lake and river which was very exciting as a college kid.
What type of boat do you have for fishing the big water?
I currently Fish out of a 21’ Nitro 929 and it’s a deeper hulled boat when talking about bass boats and it is heavier as well with its size so it handles the big water pretty well. I have everything on that boat “bomb proof” to handle the big water from my trolling motor hold downs to my electronic mounts are heavy duty to a spare bilge pump just in case.
What are you looking for in the weather forecast to know if the conditions are safe to fish from your boat on Lake Erie?
Typically our weather comes from the west across the lake so by the time it reaches us here in the eastern basin the lake ca.n be an animal.. as we just saw with the FLW Costa series being in town and only getting one day of fishing in for a scheduled 3 day tourney. A little west wind kicks up and that lake turns into a monster usually prompting small craft advisories and unsafe conditions to fish.
When fishing out of Buffalo, do you stay in that area for your smallmouth fishing?
A lot of my fishing at Erie takes place after work out of the Buffalo harbor as I can get there in about 30 minutes. I can usually get in a 2 to 3 hour trip on the lake depending on the time of the year so I stick around the buffalo area. If it’s calm I will make some runs south/west to check out some new areas, sometimes 15 to 20 miles one way.
The thing is there’s so much water to cover just in the Buffalo area. I have hundreds of waypoints from side imaging. I just try to learn a new area each trip. There’s times where I will just go out and side image and not even make a cast.
I cross into Canada to head into the river but that’s about it. I don’t fish the Canadian side just because there’s plenty of good fishing on the American side. There are some funky rules when crossing into Canadian waters while fishing. Like if you are using live worms, they have to be stored in worm bedding or just crawling around in a container but can not be brought in to Canadian waters in dirt! I don’t have to worry about that but just something people should be aware of. I’ve heard horror stories about long days and nights with customs agents because of some worms in dirt. You can cross into Canadian waters no problem to access the Niagara River but if you plan on fishing or disembarking in Canadian waters as a US Citizen you need to call ahead and notify the proper authorities.
I’ve heard horror stories about long days and nights with customs agents because of some worms in dirt. You can cross into Canadian waters no problem to access the Niagara River but if you plan on fishing or disembarking in Canadian waters as a US Citizen you need to call ahead and notify the proper authorities.
What are your favorite springtime patterns to target Lake Erie smallmouth when fishing out of Buffalo?
Springtime is a great time to be out there as at any point you can catch the smallmouth of a lifetime on any cast. The patterns set up as you see these fish move up to staging areas from their winter haunts so you start looking for them deep as soon as your brave enough to go out after the ice is gone or almost gone.
Then if you are lucky enough to be able to get out consistently you can follow them all the way into their spawning areas later in the spring. They seem to return to the same areas year after year so there’s always the “honey holes” but it’s fun to venture out and change it up a bit.
The baits are your usual Lake Erie smallmouth baits from tubes to hair jigs and or small minnow imitators. The key to being successful is just finding the fish. Catching them is easy. Finding them is the hard part. Time on the water is the biggest key to success at any time of the year because it changes day to day…especially early season.
What are your favorite summertime patterns to target Lake Erie smallmouth when fishing out of Buffalo?
In the summertime I love catching them on reactions baits like deep diving crankbaits, swimbaits and my favorite of course is topwater. We get some weed growth along some of the break walls so you can run crankbaits down those weed edges and pick up some pretty good numbers of fish doing that.
I love to fish shallow so there’s a lot of sight fishing, or opportunity fishing as I like to call it, happening during the summer time as well. Low light conditions provide some of the best bite windows in the summer when the water is still calm on the big shallow flats that are crystal clear. You can call those fish in from a far distance with topwater baits like a Zara Spook or some sort of popper. Long casts are key as it gives them fish time to locate your bait.
So you don’t always have to go deep for Lake Erie smallmouth bass?
You don’t have to go deep to find fish. I probably have spent/wasted more time trying to find fish deep as I thought that was the key to Lake Erie. But lots of fruitless searches have opened up my eyes. I like to start with the basics when I don’t have a lot of time and build from there.
What are your favorite fall patterns to target Lake Erie smallmouth bass when fishing out of Buffalo?
My favorite fall patterns are similar to the spring where you get large congregations of fish all bunched up and they are just flat out looking to eat and stock up for the winter. You can have 50 to 100 fish days if you hit it right. Typically its as fast as you can get the lure back down to the fish you can catch em.
Moving baits such as jerkbaits and deep diving crankbaits and blade baits all play parts in the fall bite. Good electronics and some good warm gear help you stay out on the water longer when it’s starting to get cold.
Overall, what are 5 pieces of advice do you have for fishing for Lake Erie smallmouth bass out of Buffalo?
- Safety first as lots of people end up in bad situations on Erie in a hurry, keeping a close eye on the weather and just using common sense.
- Know your equipment. If your going to fish Erie a lot, buy the best stuff you can afford because that lake when it’s rough will eat up the cheap stuff like electronics mounts and trolling motors, speaking from experience.
- Keep an open mind. Smallmouth are totally different than a largemouth and don’t always “follow the rules” like you can only catch them deep. There’s a huge population of fish shallow and accessible from shore.
- If you are new to fishing Erie don’t be intimidated by where to start. Just keep it simple and look at contour maps available online or on your fish finders and start with the basics. Humps, islands, rocks, and any structure or subtle change you can see on the graph, check it out.
- Just have some fun! It’s one of the worlds greatest fisheries and you never know what your going to catch from trophy walleye, steelhead or even a giant lake trout! It’s a beautiful lake you can fish anytime of the year and have success, we have a lot of great local guides and with social media now you can see the quality fish that come out of this lake regularly from the pros to the average fisherman/woman. If you have never been smallmouth fishing on Lake Erie or if you know someone who has never been fishing for smallmouth on Lake Erie… take them! It’s a blast to watch someone catch a smallmouth who does not catch them regularly. It’s open water/relaxed fishing that anyone can do. I highly recommend it. It’s a truly unique body of water that I’m very grateful to live so close to.
Thank you so much Ryan! I will be following all of your Lake Erie catches on Instagram @claypoolrj.