Lake Erie Dog Days

By on July 23, 2018
Mike Erdt of Williamsville, NY with a pair of nice Lake Erie walleyes he caught just last week out of Safe Boat Harbor. Provided photo

Mike Erdt of Williamsville, NY with a pair of nice Lake Erie walleyes he caught just last week out of Safe Boat Harbor. Provided photo

I know I’m old and that we whiteheads tend to repeat ourselves, but in this case it needs to be repeated. We anglers here in Western New York should wake up tap dancing that we have so much great fishing close by.

Word is that the current heat wave we’ve had this summer is due to the fact that the salmon fishing on Lake Ontario is on fire now. It has been one of the best years for salmon fishing on the west end of Lake Ontario than any in recent memory.

But let’s face it, the average fisherman doesn’t have the equipment or the size boat needed to troll for these trophy fish in the required 90 to 250 feet of water at this time of year. Just the cost of the electronics on these salmon boats would be more than the average angler would want to spend. Lake Ontario is a spectacular fishery and gets most of the shine because it is so close, but for my money Lake Erie is the place to fish in the dog days of summer. First of all, it’s closer than you think and you don’t have to have a big boat to fish there. You can be at the eight-lane boat launch at Safe Boat Harbor in the heart of Buffalo in one hour and twenty minutes from Rochester. If you are a walleye or bass fisherman like myself, Lake Erie is the place to be now. It is one of the few lakes in the entire country where you can potentially catch a limit of walleye in the morning and a limit of smallmouth bass in the afternoon. The walleye fishing on the Eastern Basin of Lake Erie is great and the smallmouth fishing is even better.

If you launch at Safe Boat Harbor in Buffalo you are protected by a three-mile-long breakwall running north and south. There is decent fishing inside that breakwall and the water is protected, never getting too rough. But by midmorning the pleasure boat traffic inside the harbor makes it hard to fish, especially on the weekends. There are three openings in the long breakwall that will get you into the lake proper, and once out in the main lake you have all the room in the world.

Once out in the main lake, look southwest and you will see a huge wind farm … you can’t miss the dozen or so gigantic windmills.  The wind farm was built on the old Bethlehem Steel plant property. Back in the day the steel company would load all of their inferior scrap steel on barges and dump it out in the lake. Of course, this is something that would never be allowed in this day and age but that scrap has actually benefited the fishery by creating some fantastic underwater habitat for all the fish in the lake. When you look at the bottom on your fishfinder, it looks like the surface of the moon with all its mounds and valleys. This makes for some great fishing.

In midsummer most of the walleyes have moved deeper but the smallmouth bass are scattered all through the area. If you are a live-bait fisherman, fish with crabs or minnows in about 25 to 35 feet of water. Avoid worms because the gobies will drive you crazy by picking at them until your hook is clean. If you prefer artificial baits, tube jigs, drop shot and the latest and greatest Ned rigs are your best bet. Consistently productive colors are those that imitate the bass’s natural prey items: colors like smoke/charcoal with flecks and greens (baitfish) or browns (crayfish, round goby).

The drop shot rig has become very popular among Erie bass anglers as an effective way to bait fish just off the bottom.  A drop shot rig can be used to fish with live bait, soft plastics and even tube jigs (hooked through the nose of tube). The rig consists of a hook tied directly to the line with a Palomar knot, with the hook point facing up and a weight/sinker (1/4 to 1/2 oz) tied to the end of the line below the hook. The length of line between hook and weight can vary from 1 to 5 feet. Cast the rig or simply let it drop over the side of the boat. Reel in the slack line so you can directly feel the weight on the bottom and any strike on your bait.

It is important to keep moving until you find fish. If you’ve been in a spot for twenty minutes without catching anything, move. Drifting is a good way to cover ground in this area.

By midsummer, the walleyes are straight out in 45 to 55 feet of water.  As you motor east out into deeper water from the first windmill you will see a pack of boats walleye fishing, as ninety percent of the anglers that fish Lake Erie target these tasty fish over the smallmouth bass. Right now, the walleyes are in 40 to 50 feet of water and are, in most cases, suspended up in the water column. Trolling and bottom bouncing with worm harnesses or stickbaits is your best bet.

There is a migration of bigger walleyes that takes place on Lake Erie with huge numbers of fish actually following bait fish into New York waters by late July. When these giant ‘eyes reach the Buffalo area in August, it can be some of the greatest walleye fishing in the U.S.

The D.E.C. has an online Lake Erie and Western New York hotspot report that is updated weekly or you can call the fishing hotline (716) 679-ERIE or (716) 855-FISH.

Come the dog days of summer when Lake Ontario’s great fishing is so far off shore you are closer to Canada than you are the U.S., give Lake Erie a try. I think you will become a fan.

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