By Todd Ceisner
Of all the premier bass fisheries Chad Griffin has fished in his pro career – Lake Amistad, Guntersville, Clear Lake and Okeechobee to name a few – Lake Erie always winds up at the top of his list of favorite locales. That might sound a bit odd for a Texan who’s accustomed to catching 8-pounders in tournaments back home, but that’s how much he relishes the chance to chase Great Lakes smallmouths.
“I’d rather catch a stringer of smallmouth up here than a 10-pound largemouth back home,” he says without hesitation.
BassFan recently had the chance to spend a day on Lake Erie out of Dunkirk, N.Y., with Griffin. It was early August so it was high time for offshore smallmouth fishing. Conditions were just about textbook for a day on a Great Lake – a slight chop with bright, sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70s. Heavy winds had kept him off the lake the previous day, and his arrival occurred during a long stretch of stable, warm, dry weather.
We teamed up to swing 25 bass into the boat with a few in the 5-pound class and several who put on impressive aerial acrobatic displays. His goal for the day was to hook into a 7-pounder and while he fell short of his target, it’s a safe bet he’ll be back. Here’s a look at how Griffin went about his business.
Standard Operating Procedure
Summertime on Erie usually means one thing when it comes to smallmouth – get offshore and get your bait to or near the bottom. This outing was no different, but there’s a little more to it than that as Griffin proved.
After a quick run a couple miles southwest of Dunkirk, he pulled onto a shoal where the bottom came up to 25 to 28 feet. He immediately marked fish hugging the bottom and dropped the trolling motor and went to work.
As far as baits went, we went with a known winner on Erie – the Jackall Crosstail Shad (black winnie) on a dropshot rig. It’s the same bait Kota Kiriyama used in 2008 when he won the Lake Erie/Niagara River Elite Series by targeting fish suspended between 40 and 65 feet beneath schools of bait.
While we didn’t go as far as Barcelona where Kiriyama found his fish, Griffin noted the fish on this day weren’t as deep as he expected them to be.
We threw tubes and mixed in a jerkbait here and there, but couldn’t raise any fish that way. It was obvious by looking at the graph that the fish were in full-on bottom-hugger mode with a few of them holding about a foot off the bottom.
Erie’s floor, especially the eastern basin, is littered with countless rises and humps, or shoals, where the contour breaks are mostly gradual, especially a mile or so offshore as we were. Some of the rises are sprawling, while others are tiny in comparison, but seemingly all of them hold fish.
Griffin was all smiles hauling in Lake Erie smallmouth for a day.
Finding those areas isn’t difficult given today’s GPS mapping technology. Figuring out where the actively feeding fish are holding on said structure is the challenge though.
When we’d pull up on a hump where he saw arches on his sonar, Griffin was sure to not sit on top of the rise, but off to one side, or the front or back. Boat positioning on a vast body of water can actually make a huge difference even when using a predominantly vertical presentation.
That smallmouth tend to hold on these offshore stopping points is something he says is prevalent mainly on the Great Lakes.
“What I’ve found is that the more active or smaller fish tend to be on the front side of the shoal,” he said, “while the more lazy and sometimes bigger fish hang out on the back side of the hump. They’re just sitting there waiting for something to float by.”
His theory held true in the morning as his two biggest catches came off the backside of a hump in 25 to 28 feet of water.
There was a tell-tale part of the day in the afternoon where the backside theory played out again. There was a 2-hour stretch during which four other boats were in our general area. Griffin and Co. swung at least 10 fish into the boat during that time while it seemed the others were struggling.
“I think it was because we were on the right spot at the right time,” he said.
Among those 10 was one that leapt so high out of the water it was nearly eye to eye with Griffin on the front deck.
Another element that Griffin is convinced got some of the fish fired up was his use of the HyrdoWave unit off the bow. He had it turned to the continuous frenzy (shad) setting all day with the volume cranked to the max.
Griffin’s dropshot setup was pretty standard stuff – a 3/8- or 1/4-ounce Eco Pro Tungsten dropshot weight about 6 to 8 inches below a #1 Owner dropshot hook. Griffin likes to rig his dropshot on a 7’ medium-heavy spinning rod or a similar action rod that has a nice bend in the middle.
“I like that rod because these fish dive so hard,” he said. “It’s similar to a crankbait rod. If you have too stiff of a tip, they’re going to break your line off.”