Stop two in the Costa FLW Series Northern Division got underway under clear skies this morning on Lake Erie out of Buffalo. The event, which drew 169 boats, is presented by Polaris and hosted by Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission. The field features some of the top smallmouth sticks in the Northeast. The big question at game time was not whether anglers would catch plenty of fish, but how many and of what size.
Wind holds the trump card at Erie the next three days. Gusts up to 15 mph from the west-southwest are predicted later in the week, and could cause many anglers to stay off the most productive rock piles and shoals. If the wind behaves itself, however, lots of limit stringers in excess of 20 pounds should be brought to the scales at Safe Harbor Marina. Today’s weigh-in begins at 2 p.m. ET.
Fourth largest of the Great Lakes, Erie is 241 miles long and 57 miles wide at its widest. It has a surface area of more than 9,000 square miles, with 870 miles of shoreline. Because it generally runs in a west-east direction, the lake is susceptible to westerly winds that tend to stack up waves in the eastern basin. The lake is about 80 feet at its deepest in the eastern basin.
Smallmouth bass are the main attraction in Erie, regarded as one of the best smallmouth fisheries in North America. Most anglers fish within sight of land; in fact, many will fish within sight of Buffalo’s skyline. There are numerous break lines, rocky outcrops and other fish-attracting structure that draw smallmouths and their main prey, round gobies.
Various inlets, coves and feeders with weedlines and man-made cover are found on both the Canadian and U.S. shorelines, and could be targeted if the wind does become a problem in open water. Otherwise, it’s likely that a few anglers will have shallow patterns backing up their main offshore strategies.
There aren’t a lot of secrets regarding the most productive patterns on Erie. Because round gobies tend to stay at or near the bottom along rocky break lines and drop-offs, experienced anglers tend to use tube jigs and drop-shot rigs for the most part. Tube jigs in pumpkinseed or other drab, dark colors that emulate gobies are perhaps most effective in waters as deep as 35 feet. Because zebra mussels have filtered the water, smallmouths can detect baits from longer distances and consequently are more particular about the size and color of baits. Downsized jigs, tubes and drop-shot baits that resemble gobies in size and color are part of the match-the-hatch program. Likewise, fishermen have had to lighten up on lines.
Some anglers will try their luck in the Niagara River and environs, fishing jigs along weedlines and woody cover, and under marina docks.
1. No wind is good wind – Wind, or lack thereof, will play a huge role in the tournament’s outcome. If Erie is calm, anglers will have a field day. If not, the locals who can put together effective shallow-water milk runs will rule.
2. Size matters – Catching as many as 50 smallmouths a day is not unusual in the eastern basin. To stay in the hunt, though, the trick is to catch four fish that collectively bump the upper teens, and then boat a kicker of 6 pounds or more.
3. Forage on the move – Anglers reported seeing a lot of bait in practice, including emerald shiners, a smallmouth favorite. Normally they’ve move out into deeper, cooler water by late June, but schools of them still are hanging around the Niagara River. When a big school of emeralds go by from out of the river, the bass go with them. They might come back in an hour, or not come back at all. Anglers who find schools of smallmouths actively feeding on shiners will have more lure options, including swimbaits.
In the practice round, Erie lived up to its billing, as several anglers reported that they experienced exceptional smallmouth action.
If the wind stays calm, daily weigh-ins will reflect the quality of the fishery. If anglers are sidetracked with having to deal with heavy seas rather than bait presentation, it will reduce the catch for most of them.
When the Costa FLW Series last visited Lake Erie in 2011, Lawrence Mazur of East Aurora, N.Y., won with 64-8. Mazur is in this year’s go-round, and so is Gaspare Costabile of Niagara Falls, Ontario, who was runner-up to Mazur with 62-0. In fact, about two dozen Canadians are in the field, and they include some heavy hitters such as FLW Tour standouts Chris and Cory Johnston.
“I think it’s going to take 21 pounds to make the top 10 the first day, or 42 pounds the first two days,” says Mazur. “Tons of fish are being caught, but how nasty that wind blows could be a factor for those guys that can’t run all over the place.
“I’m hoping it does blow,” he continues. “The big girls like to bite in that stuff. I fish in the wind – right in it. If there are 6-foot waves, I want to be in it.”
“I’m in boat 158 so I’m going to find a parking lot when I get out there. I’ll have to squeeze in,” says Joe Fonzi, another local favorite who’s a guide on Erie. “There’s going to be a lot of boats staying near Buffalo. The western end down toward Dunkirk isn’t fishing as well as everyone expected. From Sturgeon Point back to Buffalo is a different story. A lot of big fish are being taken there. So I think it’s going to be a slugfest there and in the community holes such as Myer’s Reef, Seneca Shoal and Waverly Shoal, which is on the Canadian side. They are producing very well, and everybody has found those fish.”
Format: All boaters and co-anglers will compete for two days. The top 10 boaters and co-anglers based on cumulative weight after two days of competition will advance to the third and final round, with the winner determined by the heaviest cumulative three-day weight.
Takeoff time: 6:00 a.m. ET
Takeoff location: Safe Harbor Marina, 1111 Fuhrmann Boulevard, Buffalo, NY 14203
Weigh-in time and location: Days 1 & 2 at 2 p.m. ET, Safe Harbor Marina; Day 3 at 3 p.m. ET, Cabela’s, 2003 Walden Avenue, Cheektowaga, NY