Good Fishing around Bass Islands

In the summer, the Bass Islands, and particularly in the South Bass Island town of Put-in-Bay, it can be a busy place. Tourists throng the streets, boats of every size and type crisscross the waters and walleye fishermen stack up on every reef and shoal. But in May, it’s a different world.

Most of the tourists haven’t arrived yet with their boats, and the air is crisp and clean with broad vistas of blue water and woodlands bursting with new growth. More important, fish are hungry after a long winter and are feeding up for pre- or post-spawning, so anglers have the water to themselves.

South Bass Island is a favorite spot for spring fishing, offering a variety both for boat and land anglers. The latter will find a nice L-shaped fishing pier at South Bass Island State Park and action can be good here, especially early and late. You shouldn’t fish the pier with nightcrawlers, since round gobies swarm there and will steadily strip your bait. But those who use larger minnows and fish near the bottom can do well on smallmouths, yellow and white perch, channel cats and walleyes. Those who want to try their luck in the Put-in-Bay’s harbor will often find schools of white bass feeding near the old fish hatchery in late evening, happy to take a small spinner or jig. And channel cat anglers can find these bottom-foragers around the hatchery and near Perry’s Monument.

For boat anglers, the sky’s the limit. Those who ride the Miller’s Ferry over from the tip of Catawba Island towing a small boat can make good catches in Put-in-Bay’s harbor. The harbor is fairly well protected, but anyone in a small boat should keep a careful eye on the weather, and be ready to “run” for the shore if black clouds move in. But given a nice day, they can cast for smallmouths around the harbor working rocky areas and marina pilings with small crankbaits, spinners and tube jigs. There’s a fine little reef near the old fish hatchery (Peach Point) that runs well out in the lake to a buoy and holds smallmouths and the occasional medium-sized walleye.

Then there’s Gibraltar Island, which is nestled in the harbor. The deep water off its west side usually yields up good perch, as does the north end, and the east side is good for smallmouths.

The remainder of South Bass Island produces fair to good bass fishing for almost its whole length, not to mention some of the biggest sheepshead you can to find. Tiny Starve Island just off the airport usually has good perch and walleyes waiting. Do remember, that smallmouth bass season is closed from May 1 through June 24, so you can catch them for fun, but you must release them since they’re spawning at that time.

Rattlesnake Island is easily visible from South Bass and located just west of Middle Bass Island. Its west and north sides have produced some good yellow perch for this writer, and smallmouth bass cruise near its rock-ribbed shores. Middle and North Bass islands aren’t fished much, probably because South Bass is easily accessible and offers good catches. But there are keeper fish here too.

On one trip, friends and I moved in close to shore on the north side of Middle Bass, and put down Lindy rigs baited with a head-hooked nightcrawler. The wind was right and we slowly bottom- bounced our way up north. On every drift we caught bass, sheepshead, perch and white perch

in nearshore areas, and in the deeper water we picked up a few walleyes. We did this for several drifts, and made a fair catch of all species.

Kelleys Island can be reached by ferry from downtown Marblehead and it has its own brand of fishing. Shore anglers can do well at Kelleys Island State Park fishing on a nice cement pier for perch and channel cats. Several times I’ve stayed at the campground, choosing a waterside campsite, and had some good evenings and nights sitting beside a fire and picnic table. I picked up white bass before dark and channel cats afterward. Other times, I brought along a small, stable canoe and fished just west of the swimming beach for smallmouths that came in close each dawn. They liked my small spinners and quick-diving little crankbaits.

Anglers with larger boats can find walleyes at Gull Island Shoal about 3 1/2 miles north of Kelleys, and sometimes make limit hauls of yellow perch near the swimming beach. The east side of this big island traditionally has good action on smallmouth bass since it holds plenty of baitfish and crayfish, and has the rocky bottoms these bronzebacks like.

It all adds up to a smorgasbord of fishing with little competition and more ideal weather—reason enough to try the Bass Islands this spring.