I was caught by a headline this last week on a major outdoor magazine cover. It said, Top 10 Meanest Bass Lakes: Fish them if you Dare. Needless to say, my curiosity was peaked. How could it not be? I wanted to see how many of these mean and nasty top ten I have actually fished. Drum roll please – I have dropped my boat into four of them.
The four that I have fished include Lake Champlain, Lake Erie, the Mississippi River and Lake St. Clair. I would have to agree with the article. These bodies of water can be downright brutal, and I’m not talking about the fishing. I’m talking about just trying to survive these waters and if you are lucky, not destroy your equipment.
Hands down, without a doubt, the most dangerous lake I have ever fished has been Lake Erie. That west-to-east, shallow, Great Lake can blow up in a hurry and make even the most seasoned boater start to panic. My worst experience there came during a bass tournament that was launching out of Buffalo, N.Y. In retrospect, there is no way the tournament director should have even let us go. It was a three-day event so why not cancel one day and only fish two?
My harrowing experience started before dawn. As I lay in my hotel bed I could hear the rope on the flagpole outside whipping and clanging with a ferocity that is not often seen. When I stepped outside, the dread I felt was proved accurate. Anglers were trying to undo tarps and prepare to drive to the launch. The scene was a complete circus with nothing going as planned.
On the way to the lake I heard on the radio that there were sustained 30-mph winds from the west with gusts to 40. The waves were continuous six-footers with the occasional eight. Great.
The chaos at the hotel was nothing in comparison to the torrent of water at the boat launch. The giant breakwaters that protected the ramp were getting pummeled and overtaken by water so huge I’m surprised they didn’t destroy the riprap walls. I was beyond nervous. The only thing I could rely upon was the fact I had a lot of experience driving in those kinds of conditions and I knew I could make it. Still, we should have never been allowed to launch.
The fun side of those huge waves was fighting smallmouth in water that was actually higher than you. When the boat was in the bottom of the trough, that fish would be eye level or above your head. That was pretty awesome. Having the opportunity to land a fish by having it fall into the boat from above doesn’t happen too often.
The down side though could have been devastating. If the big motor failed to start the results would be catastrophic. Getting your boat slammed into giant rock walls would not only destroy your rig, but also possibly take your life. The local Coast Guard unit rescued multiple anglers who swamped their boats or who couldn’t make it back. I saw one 20-foot fiberglass rig torn to shreds and spread out over the riprap like an unfolded cardboard box. It was a sight I won’t soon forget.
Those of us that actually survived the horrific conditions and made it back to the weigh-in site were witnesses to more vomit than we had ever seen. Boat decks were covered in puke. It was a mess. The number of seasick anglers was overwhelming and angler after angler could be seen leaning over the side and losing their lunch.
Yes, I agree, that Lake Erie can be unbelievably dangerous and great caution needs to be taken when fishing that body of water. Watch the weather, have experience on big open lakes, and if you even have the smallest bit of doubt, stay off of it. It’s just not worth the risks.
With that said, Lake Erie is a world-class fishery that should be on every fisherman’s bucket list. Just be careful.