ERIE, Pa. — There’s a million out-of-the-way hidden gem fishing spots in the world, those places you have to your own that are made for Hallmark Cards. Presque Isle is NOT one of them.
The peninsula that juts out into Lake Erie just across from Erie, Pa., and the protected bay that it forms, is a place where fishing dreams do come true, though.
Presque Isle has been on my fishing bucket list for years. Known for its spring smallmouth bass fishing, the bay draws anglers in from all over the country, and when Gene Post and I traveled there last week, we ran into anglers from Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, and of course Pennsylvania.
Presque Isle is a 153-mile trip from Wooster and offers one of the most unique ways to fish Lake Erie that there is. Because of its distinctive land mass, which arches 13 miles out into the lake, it creates a protected bay that is a magnet for both smallmouth and largemouth bass, pike and panfish. The entire peninsula is a state park, featuring 13 beaches, many lagoons and ponds, and 21 miles of recreational trails. It’s a place to take in the sunrise, or sunset, bike, roller blade, rent a canoe or go on a boat tour.
What it’s really known for, though, is fishing. Be it from a kayak, from shore, wading or by boat, the opportunities are endless. And, no matter what direction the wind is blowing, you can always find some place to fish at Presque Isle. That didn’t matter this past week when Post and I made the trip to Erie, Pa., to fish the famous bay in search of big bass. Post regularly fishes Presque Isle from April to July, and is well-versed on all the many launch ramps and hot spots.
I picked him up at 4:30 in the morning and we were on the water by 7 after finding one of the few remaining parking spots at the Lagoon boat ramp. We motored through Misery Bay to Horseshoe Pond to start our day. My goal was to catch 50 fish myself.
Horseshoe Pond is known for its floating houses and weeds, and we started out by flipping lily pads for largemouth bass. Worm fishing a weedless Senko is one of my favorite ways to catch fish, and the black 5-inch bait didn’t disappoint. With big Buffalo carp rooting around in the lily pads, the bass didn’t seem to want to bite a bait in the pads. But run it alongside the vegetation, and it was a different story. Plenty of 1-2-pound bucketmouths fell to the trick, but we were after bigger fish, and went in search of rod-bending smallies.
By this time, the boats were lining up just off the point at Perry Monument (yes, there’s one at Presque Isle, too). Looking like a fall perch fishing day in the Lake Erie central basin, boats were grouped within a couple hundred feet of each other fishing a swath 100-400 feet off shore. We motored well past them a mile down the shoreline to play the west wind and drift back to them. We picked up a few nice smallies, pitching Ned Rigs in 4-8-feet of water, but the bite wasn’t what we hoped it would be.
After two drifts, we headed to the east wall of Misery Bay, but the wind, which had picked up at this point, was too strong for my trolling motor to handle, so we ducked back into Horseshoe Pond. A bass boat was fishing the same track of pads we had fished before, so we plowed through a chuck of lily pads with the boat motor to get to an inside opening in the vegetation on the north side. Some more largemouth bass proved to like the black Senko, as well as a Keitech paddle-tail minnow, but we were still looking for the big smallies.
We tried another drift along the south shore of Presque Isle, where the bass boats and kayaks were still lined up at. With marginal success, we made the choice to head to new waters. It was the best decision we made all day.
Wanting to see more of what Presque Isle has to offer, we headed for open waters, boating through the channel to Erie Harbor. From there, we drove north to Gull Point. After talking with two boaters from Virginia, we settled in on a spot close to them and our luck went from good to great.
Whether it was the spot, or the time of day, Post and I had the best 45 minutes of fishing we’ve ever had together. Floating in 4 feet of water over a sandy bottom, we found the mother lode. Big fish after big fish, no cheapies in the bunch, just big, fat, hard-fighting bronzebacks. It didn’t look like classic smallmouth terrain of rocks and boulders, just a featureless sandy bottom in blue-green water. But, once again, the boats were lined up on the spot, but we seemed to have picked the prime location.
We caught a dozen, and nothing under 16, with the biggest 18.5. Our long drive, long day and dogged persistence had finally paid off. For me, there’s nothing better than hooking into an 18-inch football of a chunk smallie that rockets two-feet out of the water one second, then digs down under the boat the next. Relentless, they never give up.
The right amount of pressure and the right drag on your reel is critical, not to mention a good net man. Both Post and I were throwing Z-Man TRDs on Z-Man Finesse ShroomZ jigheads, while other anglers we talked to were having success fishing drop-shots, especially when the bottom had some slimy growth to it.
Unfortunately, as soon at the bite started, it ended. We couldn’t get a bite, no matter where we moved to in the same general area. We tried a little deeper, a little shallower, east and west — nothing. And, while I was hoping for 50 fish each, Post and I were stuck on 49 fish total, and I wasn’t going to stop until we hit 50 fish for the day.
So, on the way back to the boat ramp, we stopped a few places just to try and hook a rock bass or bluegill to get to our 50 fish, and finally I got a rocky to hit on a jig and white twister tail to end our fishing about 500 feet from the boat ramp.
We topped our day off with a couple of Greek hot dogs and french fries from Schickalay’s On The Bay on the way of out Erie, and headed back home after 11 hours of fishing. Presque Isle lived up to its hype. Be warned, though, it’s no secret, as you’ll have plenty of company on the water and along the shoreline. Luckily, there’s plenty of fish to be had.
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You will need an out-of-state fishing license to fish Presque Isle. A non-resident one-day tourist license is $26.90 and does not require any other stamps or permits. A three-day non-resident tourist license is also $26.90, but requires a $9.90 Lake Erie Permit (seven-day tourist is $34.90 plus Lake Erie Permit). A one-year non-resident license is $52.90 (plus Lake Erie Permit).
Outdoor Correspondent Art Holden can be reached at email@example.com.