If you don't have an offshore boat or otherwise cannot partake in the world-class smallmouth bass fishing on Lake Erie, take heart.
Fine smallmouth bass fishing is available on several northwest Ohio rivers, including the one that flows right under Toledo's nose - the Maumee.
The list of other streams is fairly long: The Portage, Sandusky, Huron and Vermilion rivers, among Lake Erie tributaries, plus the Auglaize River, which enters the Maumee at Defiance, and the Clear Fork River near Mansfield in Richland County.
Perhaps surprisingly, notes state biologist Larry Goedde, “The Auglaize may be the best of the bunch.” The stream does not have bedrock like the Lake Erie tributaries, but instead has more “cobble” or boulders and deeper pools - ideal smallmouth habitat.
Unlike largemouths and their preference for slower water and a muddy bottom, smallmouths like gravelly or rocky streams with a visible, relatively clear current.
Brothers of largemouth bass, “smallies”are a superb freshwater gamefish, so much so that their sterling qualities often turn anglers in their pursuit into rabid fans. They leap, dive, circle and twist, and seem never to give up. True believers will swear that pound for pound they have more heart than largemouth.
Smallmouths actually have large mouths, but the corners of their closed mouths do not extend beyond the border of the eye, whereas in largemouths the closed mouth extends back of the eye. Smallmouths vary from yellow-green to olive-green with a bronze reflection, and have a series of faint vertical bars on their sides. Among the others are bronzeback and brown bass.
They typically range from 12 to 15 inches long, and while the state record from Lake Erie weighed 91/2 pounds and stretched more than 24 inches, expect the average smallie to weigh one to two pounds. The latter weights, in fact, are what can be expected for the average 10- to 14-inch stream fish. Occasionally a river-size trophy of four pounds or so may come to hand.
Goedde, supervisor of fish management for Ohio Wildlife District 2, regards June as a prime stream smallmouth month, with the season actually beginning about mid May and continuing through the summer.
Early in the season try the backwaters of riffles with a variety of lures, from small spinners such as Rooster Tails to small tube jigs, jigs and plastic tails, or even smaller crankbaits, such as the Big O or Rebel Pop-R. Of these the small jigs and tails, one-sixteenth to one-eighth-ounce, probably are the most versatile. Later on, Goedde said, when stream flows are low, try casting to deeper pools with imitation crayfish baits, such as the Mud Bug. Ultralight or light spinning tackle also is ideal for such fishing.
Fly fishermen also do well with stream smallmouth on a variety of crayfish imitations, nymphs and such standbys as the woolly bugger.
Goedde advises that you conduct your stream smallmouth trek like a hunter. “Approach cautiously,” he advises. Work upstream. Hip waders usually are enough for this time of year, when stream flows are low, unless you are hardy enough to fish “cowboy-style” - wear old tennis shoes and just wade in in your jeans.
Be sure too to obtain permission from landowners in areas when wading into areas without public right-of-way streamside. Private landowners actually own the bottom of the stream to mid-river. If you are in a canoe or johnboat, or otherwise floating, no problem.
One veteran fan of Maumee River smallmouth angling is Mike Bender. His regular river forays since late May have netted him 20 to 30 smallmouth per trip, on average, one of them to four pounds. One day he caught and released 57 fish, and one excursion brought him more than 100 smallies. “Best day I ever had in all the years I've been going down.”
His typical rig now is a sixteenth- or eighth-ounce jig and tail, selecting from a variety of colors - Erie green, Junebug, pearl blue, avocado, smoke/gold flake, smoke/red flake, or two-inch tube jigs in the same colors and weights.
Bender casts upstream and “drifts-swims” his bait down. “Bass pick it up on the way down,” he says. He works holes and trenches by day, and shallow pockets and slack-water in the evenings.
“Fish want the jig moving,” said Bender, who also looks for bank undercuts and behind boulders. He also tries Beet-L-Spins in small sizes, Rocket Shads, and “any spinner type of thing.”
Goedde estimates that 80 to 90 percent of the stream smallmouth caught are immediately released by anglers. That is a good practice in terms of conserving the resource, although the biologist noted that studies so far have not shown any of these streams to be overfished.
Here is a rundown of the more productive general areas on each stream, according to Goedde:
Maumee River, scattered areas from Jerome Road, above Maumee-Perrysburg, to Grand Rapids Dam. Sites include Jerome Road up to Weirs Rapids, North Turkeyfoot area, South Turkeyfoot area, the state's Van Tassel Access below Otsego Park in Wood County, and below Grand Rapids Dam.
Portage River, from Woodville to Oak Harbor, scattered stretches.
Sandusky River, from Tindall Bridge above Fremont upstream to Wolf Creek Park; Abbott's Bridge area off Township Road 153 at Fort Seneca; the Sandusky County Road 201 bridge; behind the Seneca County Chapter, Izaak Walton League property off County Road 38; and below St. John's Dam, above Tiffin off County Road 6.
Huron River, Milan to Monroeville, selected stretches.
Vermilion River, Lorain County, selected stretches.
Clear Fork River, from the village of Butler to Pleasant Hill Reservoir.
Auglaize River, from Van Wert County line to the Blanchard River mouth on the Auglaize, near Cloverdale.