Buffalo's Safe Harbor
For someone who travels to fish for a living, it might come as a surprise that until recently I had not fished the Eastern Basin of Lake Erie for walleye. I guess with the “close to home” fishing opportunities available on the Western and Central Basins of Lake Erie, traveling to the east end of the lake seemed unnecessary.
Unnecessary perhaps, but based on the walleye fishing experience Jake and I recently enjoyed fishing out of Buffalo Harbor, it’s a safe bet I’ll be returning to the Eastern Basin again and again. They say that half the fun in life is the anticipation. That certainly was true prior to our Buffalo Harbor trip as everyone we talked to described the fishing as “on fire” like never before.
Big walleye and lots of them was the theme for a recent trip set on Lake Erie’s Eastern Basin. This fish was caught trolling a tandem willow leaf crawler harness on five colors of lead core line with the help of an Off Shore Tackle Side-Planer board.
The Eastern Basin of Lake Erie is most famous for producing lots of adult fish in the summer and fall months. Countless transient fish from the Western and Central Basins spend the warm water months in the deeper and cooler waters of the Eastern Basin.
What isn’t widely known is that natural reproduction among walleye also occurs in the Eastern Basin. Lots of walleye found in these waters call it home year around. The Eastern Basin has just about everything an aspiring walleye could hope for including a diverse baitfish population, good spawning substrate, lots of fish holding structure and an exceptional mix of ultra fertile shallow and deep water for walleye to thrive in.
THE SPINNER BITE
Unlike the Western and Central Basins where anglers spend the majority of their time in the summer trolling with crankbaits and spoons, Eastern Basin walleye enthusiasts live and die by the worm harness. To get these “spinner rigs” down to depth anglers employ a variety of open water trolling tactics including lead core line, Tadpole Divers, in-line trolling weights, bottom bouncers, diving planers and even downriggers.
The Colorado blade is king and sizes No. 4, 5 and 6 routinely put fish in the boat. On our recent trip, the Fishing 411 crew found that the smaller No. 4 Colorado blades allowed us to troll a little faster without getting line twist. Our best overall trolling speed was 1.7 to 2.0 MPH which is blazing fast for the Colorado blade.
The author caught this typical Eastern Basin walleye trolling a hand tied spinner featuring a pair of Rooster Tail blades using five colors of lead core line and an Off Shore Tackle OR12 Side-Planer board.
The Yakima Bait HammerTime Walleye Spinners we normally use were modified slightly for targeting suspended fish. The back hook on the harness was removed and replaced with a No. 6 Eagle Claw Trokar TK300 treble hook. When trolling in open water, treble hooks do a better job of hooking and holding onto larger walleye than the single hooks most harnesses feature.
We also custom tied harnesses using willow lead blades we stole from some well used Rooster Tail in-line spinners. On these rigs we started with 20 pound test fluorocarbon line and snell knotted a No. 6 Trokar treble hook at the business end and a No. 2 Trokar octopus as the front hook. A few colorful beads were added and then a pair of willow leaf blades on Quick Change plastic clevices spaced about an inch apart.
The advantage of willow blades is they spin closer to the leader and can be used at faster speeds without fear of line twist. On this particular trip, the Colorado blade produced more fish, but the willow blades produced our biggest fish.
To get our harnesses down to depth, we selected two different presentations including 27 pound test lead core line fished in combination with in-line boards and bottom bouncers fished flat off the corners of the boat. In an attempt to saturate the water column with baits, we stacked a three, five and seven color lead core rig on each side of the boat. We also used a pair of eight ounce bottom bouncers to target fish on bottom in 45 to 50 feet of water.
Back home nary a single tackle shop sells eight ounce bottom bouncers, but on Erie’s Eastern Basin using these magnum sized bouncers is a way of life. A three way swivel rig fished with six to eight ounce weights on the dropper is another popular way of fishing spinners on the bottom.
Most of the walleye fishing in the Eastern Basin involves running many miles off shore to target walleye suspended over deep water. Buffalo Harbor supports a near shore fishery that is ultra popular with locals who target these fish in small boats.
When the walleye bite is happening, Buffalo’s Safe Harbor State Park literally fills up with anglers, all looking to cash in on some of the best walleye action to be found in Lake Erie. This region of Lake Erie is located in the extreme eastern end of the lake and is well protected from north, north/east, northwest and easterly winds that normally make it impossible to fish other regions of Lake Erie.
Besides shooting a TV episode, we traveled to the Buffalo area to spend some quality time fishing with a couple of anglers who won a day-on-the-water with the Fishing 411 crew. Back in January when Jake and I were keynote speakers at the Greater Niagara Fishing Expo (www.niagarafishingexpo.com), Ron White and his son Brandon won a fishing trip drawing that allowed the winner to spend a day either on Lake Ontario or Lake Erie.
The author (top) recently spent a day on the water with Ron White (left) and his son Brandon targeting walleye out of Buffalo’s Safe Harbor. Ron and Brandon won a day-on-the-water giveaway sponsored by the Greater Niagara Fishing Expo in Niagara Falls, New York.
Ron White decided he would rather target walleye on Lake Erie, so a plan was put into motion. Ron took some vacation time so we could fish during the week to avoid the weekend crowds.
Not having fished the Eastern Basin before, Jake and I reached out to an old friend, Jim Hanley of Jim Hanley Fishing Charters for some help. Thanks to Jim we boxed our first fish about five minutes into day one and enjoyed non-stop action for the next three days.
Jim Hanley can be contacted for charter information via Facebook Messenger.
On the drive home from Buffalo, Jake and I started planning a return visit for 2019. Not only does the Buffalo area produce lots of fish and big fish, these protected waters allow anglers to target walleye even when the wind blows.
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