Many people head to the tributaries of Lake Erie for trout and specifically the amazing steelhead runs that occur on many of these waters. But you may be overlooking the bass fishing that is available on many of these tributaries as well. We discuss with guide Scott Grassi of Keystone Angler Guide Service his approach for fly fishing Pennsylvania Lake Erie tributaries for smallmouth bass.
You recently started offering guide trips on Lake Erie tributaries for smallmouth bass. What went into the decision to add that option to your guide service?
My Number 1 reason for offering trips on Lake Erie tributaries for smallmouth bass is because it’s an absolute blast! Anyone who has ever caught a smallmouth bass can attest to their fight. Add that to the fact we are using fly gear and you have a recipe for some fun fishing. How could I not want to share that with our clients?
Without giving away secret spots, what are some of the Lake Erie tributaries that hold fishable populations of smallmouth bass?
A lot of the Lake Erie trib’s will get a run of smallies in the Spring. In Pennsylvania, we focus our fishing efforts on Elk and Walnut Creek. We also fish quite a bit in Ohio and New York. Those streams hold their water much better than the Pennsylvania tributaries and are less dependent upon rain fall which makes scheduling trips on those a lot easier for us.
Are these fish that lives in the rivers and creeks all year around or is there any type of migration pattern to/from the big lake?
The majority of the Smallmouth we catch are migrating into the tributaries to spawn. When the waters are consistently in the low 60’s the fish start to enter into the tribs looking for spawning grounds. This is the time when there are usually plenty of steelhead around and our clients have a great time catching both species.
Related to that, what are the seasons that are best to fish Pennsylvania Lake Erie tributaries for smallmouth bass?
The smallmouth spawn/migration only occurs in the spring of the year and as I stated above, is all water temperature related. With that said anywhere from mid April to early May for the start and we typically get a good month or so of fishing before the fish head back out to their deep water haunts in Lake Erie.
Are these waters more #s or size?
The majority of the fish we catch are 1 to 3 pound fish but we also catch plenty of fish in the 4 to 5 pound range which makes for an incredible fight on fly gear. The biggest fish caught by one of our clients was around 4 pounds, and he was a very happy fisherman.
Are you wade fishing or using a drift boat or both when fishing Pennsylvania Lake Erie tributaries for smallmouth bass?
We are strictly wade fishing and the water depths rarely exceed a few feet. Depending on the air temperatures, waders or wet wading in shorts and sneakers are the norm.
With safety in mind it’s always a smart practice to watch your footing. Most of the Lake Erie Tributaries have shale bottoms and can be extremely slippery with a little bit of algae growth. There are also crevices in these shale bottoms that can sprain or possibly break an ankle if you’re not careful.
What do you consider your staple fly patterns when fishing Pennsylvaia Lake Erie tributaries for smallmouth bass?
Any fly that replicates a minnow, crayfish, or shiner is an effective fly for Lake Erie smallmouth bass. Clousers , Wooly Buggers. and Sculpin patterns produce many fish for us each season. I also started using a Goby fly that the fish absolutely destroyed this past Spring!
My strategy for fishing these flies is to find a deep water run or hole that has some sort of structure whether it be a large rock. an undercut ledge.or a fallen tree. I work my fly as tight against the cover as possible. Many fish stage in and around this type of cover are waiting to get on a spawning bed or to continue their migration upstream. They will readily take a well presented fly.
What rod/reel/line setups do you have clients use when fishing for Pennsylvania Lake Erie tributaries smallmouth bass?
I have several rod options for my clients. They range from 5wt to 7wt medium action rods with matching reels spooled with a good DT, WF floating line or even nymphing line with a 9ft to 10ft, 6lb to 8lb one piece flourocarbon leader is all you need. These fish are custom made for beginner fly anglers because of the simplicity of the set up and the willingness of the fish to hit flies.
Why should someone consider hiring a guide for a day on these waters?
All good guides are intimate with the waters in which they work. We know the little hidden spots where the fish like to hide that someone fishing the area for the first time or someone new to the sport might not know. These spots are worth their weight in gold and can mean the difference in having a successful day or a not so successful day.
When you spend time with us on the water you will definitely learn where these hidden spots are and how to fish them properly. In addition, we will show you what flies are most productive and how to effectively fish them.
Overall, what are 5 pieces of advice for anyone fly fishing Pennsylvania Lake Erie tributaries for smallmouth bass?
1 – Be stealthy. Unless it’s after a rain, many of the Lake Erie trib’s will be on the lower side and clear. The fish can be skittish and easily spooked if you’re not careful.
2 – Use flies that mimic the natural forage of Lake Erie Smallmouth Bass. Emerald Shiners, Goby, and Crayfish patterns work best.
3 – Fish structure. As I mentioned above, rocks, ledges, undercuts, and fallen trees are all favorite hiding spots for Pennsylvania Lake Erie tributaries smallmouth bass.
4 – Fish around rainfall. Some of our most productive days are when the streams swell and cloud up from a rain storm.
5 – Watch the water temperatures. Smallmouth require specific water temps to enter the tributaries and spawn. If the water temps are too cold you’re in for a non-productive day.
Awesome information Scott! Thank you!
To find out more and book a trip go to KeystoneAnglerGuideService.com.