There's little question that Lake Erie is the Walleye Capital of the World. And I'd bet that if anybody did some careful checking, it might rank high in the U.S. for perch, smallmouth bass, channel cats, white bass, and other hard fighting fish.

So when Hocking County anglers head north, they'll most likely be seeking these prime game fish. But if walleye and perch aren't hitting during your trip, there's still a fish that can save your day, and that's largemouth bass. Yes, they're up there, and lots of them, too.

Largemouth bass belong in farm ponds and lakes from Charles Mill Lake to Pymatuning and Salt Fork, not Lake Erie. Which is why so many anglers have been surprised to pick up occasional largemouths while seeking other species. The big lake's largemouth bass population was a well kept secret for long years, but word gradually leaked out and as more and more inlanders launched bass boats and started worming and crankbaiting rugged shorelines, its fame began to grow. Today, bass clubs from all over Ohio hold tournaments on Lake Erie, and their catches are sometimes phenomenal.

I first heard about this new hotspot from a fishing chum who's been working Sandusky Bay for at least two seasons. "You can't believe the action up there." he chortled. "One cast you'll get a largemouth, the next a smallmouth. You can get both kinds right along the same piece of shoreline" I went up with him one Saturday in late-September, and we launched his boat not too far from Old Bay Bridge. Our first stop was right along the northwest side of the bridge where there were trailers and lots of small docks.

We worked those docks just like I'd work any on inland lakes, easing along with an electric motor and tossing plastic worms among the pilings. Occasionally, we'd alternate with a chartreuse or white spinnerbait, or pick up a rod with a deep running crankbait, usually in crayfish colors, But worms were the big producers.

Another favorite largemouth spot for growing numbers of bass hunters is East Harbor. The shoreline has plenty of docks and pilings, and unused sections have lots of drowned logs, stumps, brushy trees, and riprap. Bass like all of these, and anglers who drift quietly along tossing lures at promising targets should do well.

Another top tactic here is to cast well back beneath the docks with a jig wearing a rubber skirt and a piece of pork rind or plastic worm. If the water is murky, use dark colors like black, brown, and purple. If clear, go to lighter shades, maybe even a Betsy Flip in camo. Fishing in early fall with surface baits around shoreline cover and weed beds when the water is calm can be exciting, too, especially when a three or four pound fish explodes under the lure.

There are always anglers who just don't like to fish largemouths with plastic worms or jigs, and for these, there are other choices. One who visits the Big Lake often favors a white spinnerbait, and casts it around stumps and fallen timber or overhanging trees and bushes. "I usually put on a bigger blade on the spinners, and keep them single spin, so the blade will vibrate more." And some prefer crankbaits, too. It's your choice.

At any rate, if you're tired of catching walleye and your freezer is already filled with perch, largemouth bass can be a welcome change. They're big, hard fighting and high leaping, and ready to tackle anything, particularly in early fall when they're building up fat for winter. Reason enough to seek them now.

Dick Martin is a retired biology teacher who has been writing outdoor columns for over 30 years. You can reach him at richmart@neo.rr.com. Martin writes a weekly column published in The Logan Daily News. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.

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