For many anglers when they think of fly fishing the Great Lakes the tendency is to think about opportunities for steelhead and salmon. Fantastic opportunities for these fish are abundant and there are many to be caught, but that is only part of the story. Musky, Bass (White, Smallmouth, Rock, and Largemouth), Panfish, and numerous other warm water species fill the near shore reaches of Lake Erie and are available to fly anglers from boat and on foot. As a rule any fish that can be caught with conventional tackle can be caught with a fly rod, but the optimum depth is less than 15 feet of water with decent clarity. The fly rod brings subtlety to pressured or spooked fish in clear water and offers anglers a challenge when fighting even smaller gamefish. Also, flat out flies catch fish! There is no denying the effectiveness of a properly presented fly.
When selecting what fly rod an angler should choose a rod that matches the conditions they might face while on the water. In most situations on Lake Erie fly rods between 6-8weight and roughly 9 feet in length will be the preferred size. If I had to pick one size rod to have on Lake Erie it would be a 7wt. 9ft. fast action multi-piece fly rod from a reputable manufacture (a few of my favorites include Winston, Orvis, Echo, and Sage). Ironically this is the same set up many anglers already have to tackle steelhead on the local river systems. The most popular fly lines have a weight forward taper and are either floating or intermediate (slow) sinking and should suffice in a majority of fishing situations on Lake Erie. Reputable line manufactures include RIO, Scientific Anglers, and AirFlo. Tapered leaders between 6-9feet are normal and as a rule larger flies require shorter leaders, while a longer leader lender to a stealthier presentation for smaller flies in shallower water. Leaders should match the size and conditions anglers are faced with, but 12-6 breaking strength should handle most situations. Fly reels in most freshwater warm water situations are merely for line management. While purchasing a fly fishing outfit a fly reel should not take up a majority of an angler’s budget when considering a suitable option. Economically priced reels from Sage, Ross, Orvis, and Cabelas are great options and should be the least considered piece of equipment in your purchase. The last and maybe most crucial piece of equipment is a good pair of polarized sunglasses. A good pair of popularized lenses will help an angler spot fish, reduce eye fatigue, and guard your eyes from errant casts. Fly patterns made of natural fibers including rabbit and bucktail imitating local forage are safe bets and “matching the hatch” is key to angler success. For local patterns and knowledge two shops that come to mind are the Backpacker Shop at 5128 Colorado Ave, Sheffeild, Ohio (440) 934-5345 and Chagrin River Outfitters 100 N. Main St. (440)-247-7110. A lot of information is out there, but spending some time and a little money with a local fly shop is still the best way to hedge the learning curve especially for local fly patterns.
Fly fishing begins on Lake Erie once water temps reach 50 degrees typically at the end of April with consistent fishing continuing through October. The Islands of the western basin as well as many of the harbors and marinas across Erie’s southern shore will hold catchable populations of Black Bass throughout spring, summer, and fall and are easily accessible to the fly rodder. Pockets of Bluegills, Crappies, and rockbass inhabit the same areas and readily take a fly. Lesser targeted species such as Freshwater Drum, Carp, and white bass make excellent targets with the fly rod and are available throughout the season. Favorite fly rod hotspots include Headlands Beach to the East, Cleveland Harbor centrally located, and the Islands of the Western Basin. Experimentation in patterns and location are key to angler success and are part of the fun of fly fishing! Many anglers and even guides fly fish Lake Erie, but are the vast minority of anglers out there. If you own a fly rod and are only fishing for steelhead you are missing out and I personally hope to see more fly anglers on the water soon!
Anglers looking to try their luck fly fishing Lake Erie should contact Capt. Nate Stansberry (330-414-1765 or firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit stansberrysportfishing.com for more information.