Catching Numbers Of Summer Bluegill In Lake Erie’s East Harbor

By on August 19, 2015
Showing off some bluegill caught from Lake Erie’s East Harbor. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

Lake Erie is well known for walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass and steelhead trout. Anglers travel from all over the country to fish for these popular gamefish throughout the year. Beyond Lake Erie’s well known opportunities, there are plenty of lesser known fisheries that are outstanding in their own rights. One of these opportunities happens to be bluegill in East Harbor. While you won’t see harbor panfishing publicized in many Lake Erie fishing brochures, you definitely won’t regret spending some time becoming familiar with it.

East Harbor is located between Port Clinton and Marblehead, Ohio, just east of Catawba Island. It is a large body of water, compared to what you might imagine for most harbors, at around 600 surface acres of water. The harbor is primarily less than 8 feet deep and has plenty of vegetation to support populations of panfish and largemouth bass. While seasonal opportunities exist to catch numbers of crappies, bluegill are the most abundant and available panfish and can be caught all year long, including through the ice. Summertime bluegill fishing might present the best fishing of the year, providing both numbers of fish and also decent-sized fish if you choose to take some home for dinner.

One of the most effective techniques to consistently catch numbers of summer bluegill is using a small jighead under a slip bobber with either a soft plastic trailer or small live bait such as red worms or meal worms. I prefer using soft plastics as you don’t need to worry about keeping them alive and you can catch 4 or 5 fish per bait without having to handle live bait after each catch. I’ve found that a 5 millimeter tungsten jighead (my favorites are made by Brantner Jigs,) tipped with a Domka Outdoors nano fry is a great combination under a properly sized slip bobber.

An effective setup for bluegill is a small jighead under a slip bobber with either a soft plastic trailer or small live bait such as red worms or meal worms. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

An effective setup for bluegill is a small jighead under a slip bobber with either a soft plastic trailer or small live bait such as red worms or meal worms. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

To have a successful day in East Harbor during the heat of summer, you have to find the right mix of weeds and water depth. If you are in water that is too shallow and weed-choked, you won’t catch fish, but you will also struggle if you get in too deep of water with too few weeds. I’ve found that 4 to 6 feet of water in the west end of the harbor generally has the best scattered weeds that are still fishable and hold numbers of quality bluegill. Earlier in the summer before the weed growth is too thick, you can also catch bluegill holding in scattered weeds just outside of the emerging lily pad beds, but as summer progresses the lily pads and also the weeds outside of them thicken up and fishing them becomes more difficult.

The best technique by far is to slowly drift or use your electric motor to slowly cruise through the best areas while making short casts. If you’re in an area with thinner weeds, cast near the biggest patches that are probably holding individual fish, and when you’re in thicker weeds cast to the openings or edges of dense weeds. The key is to cast the bobber and jighead, let the jighead fall and stand the bobber straight up, and then if you don’t already have a hit you can shake the rod tip or give it a short jerk to impart some action. Generally, if you don’t have a hit within the first 30 seconds, it’s time to retrieve and make another cast. Many of the hits will come on the initial fall or immediately after the fall. In 4 to 6 feet of water, I would normally have the slip bobber stop set about 3 feet above the jighead. When you catch a few fish, stop and work that area over. When the fishing slows, go back to cruising around and looking for active fish. As long as you continue to make lots of short casts, you will eventually find the best areas and figure out exactly what habitat to target for the day.

Bluegill caught in Lake Erie’s East Harbor. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

Bluegill caught in Lake Erie’s East Harbor. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

I try not to worry too much about the color of the soft plastic, and many colors will work when fishing is good. My personal favorite is purple, although the technique is more important than the lure color. I like to soak my soft plastics in anise oil to add a little flavor and scent, but I probably couldn’t prove that it’s absolutely necessary. Make sure that you quickly check your soft plastic after each cast to remove any weed pieces and to ensure that it’s pushed all the way up on the hook. Small bluegill like to grab the tail and many times the soft plastic will end up pulled away from the jighead even if you didn’t notice the bite.

East Harbor bluegill fishing is extremely enjoyable whether you’re a seasoned angler looking for a meal, or if you need somewhere to introduce children to fishing. The action can be fast and there are plenty of quality fish mixed in. I know that many other harbors have similar opportunities, but East Harbor is a sure bet to hone your skills and then extend what you’ve learned to other Lake Erie harbors or backwaters.

Top image: Showing off some bluegill caught from Lake Erie’s East Harbor. (Credit: Travis Hartman)

About Travis Hartman

FishSens pro Travis Hartman is a two-time WBSA Lake Erie Walleye Trail points champion and 2015 Cabela’s MWC World Walleye Championship qualifier. He has 21 top 10 finishes and is also a licensed charter captain.

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