Where’s the big catch?

Bass fishermen see decline in trophy-worthy fish

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blue gill
Blue collar pan fish like blue gills and crappies can provide a morning full of action when more glamorous species like bass are taking the day off. Light line and tiny lures are keys to making smaller fish as much fun as any trophy.

Midsummer fishing can be confusing, especially this summer which like last winter, is anything but normal.

I attended the weigh-in following a four-hour evening bass tournament this week, a normally impressive showing of fishing skill plus willing and numerous large mouth bass.

Of course there is an element of luck too, some good and some bad. I expected to witness some heavy limits of five culled bass with at least one or two real hogs. After all, these guys know how to catch bass and they do it nearly every week at bass tournaments held around northeast Ohio.

Disappointing catch

Only four two-man teams even approached the scale, each with just two fish to show for their efforts and only one fish was seen which easily scored top billing for the “big fish” pot. Several teams ignored the scale tender all together, admitting that they had not caught a single fish that surpassed the minimum size.

So “what’s going on” seemed to be the one and only topic of discussion as angler after angler shrugged their sun burned shoulders. After all, this weekly contests usually ends with a five fish limit totalling something around 17 or 18 pounds. The same kind of disappointing results stymied bass anglers just days before at a popular Muskingum impoundment tournament.

Lake Erie yellow perch fishermen are experiencing similar results while dipping emerald shiners in front of schools of reluctant fish they see on their depth finder. Is the moon phase, water temperature, oxygen level, lack of forage, commercial netting, too little this or too much that? Who knows?

An early bite, really early, is the advice given to inquiring perch chasers by Snug Harbor Bait Shop, the local daily-updated voice of Conneaut. It appears that the perch bite, which has been less than stellar this year, is fairly decent from first light to mid-morning.

Following that, perch fishing is spotty at best. And just to make perch fishermen even more nervous is a severe shortage of emerald shiners this year, a shortage yet to earn a reasonable explanation.

Good news

But, there is good news up north. Lake Erie walleye are biting and the future for this famous fishery if very encouraging. In fact, the amount of throw backs (young walleyes less than the minimum size limit of 15 inches) being caught is nothing short of certain promise for the coming years.

It appears that the little guys are of two classes, one of about six to seven inches and a year older class of about 14 inches. These young walleyes represent the best two spawns Lake Erie has produced in several years. Recent weeks have produced lots of limit catches of Lake Erie walleyes and anglers from Lorain to Conneaut are cashing in on the influx of keeper fish and those pesky throw backs.

Interestingly, there are still some huge walleyes being caught, survivors of a record setting spawn in the early 2000s. If that sounds like a long time ago it is. These fish are now well into their teens and represent the largest walleyes most of us will ever see.

Big survivors

We are talking 12 and 13 pound trophies and there are obviously lots of these monsters still hanging around. Stumped by the odd behavior of local bass which seem to be determined to avoid my lures as well as those of much better bass fishermen, I’ve gone back to fishing for fish that are more cooperative, namely crappies which seem just as anxious to chase a bait as they were in the spring. A chunky crappie on a wispy ultra-light spinning is not only fun to catch but tasty when pan fried.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.

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