Safety Tips for Lake Erie Bass Boaters in serach of big smallmouths

Posted on January 21st, 2013 by Captain Jim

In 1990 when Operation Bass (now FLW) held the first of two Red Man All Americans here in Buffalo, NY, I was asked by FLW Tournament Director, Charlie Evans if there was anything the anglers needed to know about navigating this area of Laske Erie, in their search for big smallmouth bass. We spoke at length about tackle and baits but the conversation turned serious when it came to rigging the forty 370 Rangers they would be bringing for the competitors. I had 2 suggestions which would be essential for a safe ride, not only for the competitors, but their press observers as well. My first suggestion was to have at least two bilge pumps in each boat and have them at the highest flow rate possible. The second was to equip each boat with a four blade stainless steel prop. Management at Ranger and Operation Bass baulked at first, but after explaining that through my 32 years of fishing and twelve years guiding I had very good reasons for such suggestions, the boats showed up in Buffalo equipped as recommended.
The modifications to those Ranger Bass Boats remain just as important for the bass boats of today as they did back on 1990. Lake Erie can be as peaceful and lovely as Golden Pond or it can be deadly and unpredictable as an unexpected nor’easter. Being prepared for the worst when you are fishing for big Lake Erie smallmouth is a must. These modifications work hand in hand to make for a safer, as well as a dryer, ride. The BASS Elite anglers of today have taken my advice to an even great extent by installing the biggest bilge pump made and attaching it right to the floor of the boat with a hose directing it over the side. As the computer expression goes: “ it’s not a matter of will your computer crash, it’s a matter of when”, the same thing applies to running a bass boat on Lake Erie. It’s only a matter of time before a big wave comes over the bow. IT WILL HAPPEN. I recall an Elite tournament held here in Buffalo, New York a few years ago. I was operating camera for ESPN and was assigned to Elite Pro and guide, Matt Reed From Texas. Matt made it to his spot without incident and we stayed high and dry. As the day progressed, the wind speed increased, as it always does, and so did the waves. On our way back to Buffalo for the weigh in, Matt did a great job of throttling on and off as we approached and rode over the 4 foot swells, but then the inevitable occurred. Within minutes, we took four big waves over the bow as we approached the Buffalo Harbor to weigh in. We were soaked but thankfully I had put the $30,000 Panasonic camera into the water proof case or it would have been toast. Now let me point out that Matt is one of the best bass boat drivers I have ever been with, but Lake Erie is unforgiving and takes no prisoners. The reason for having a four or five blade prop is to give your boat a greater degree of bow lift, thus cutting down on the number of times that you will “stuff” the bow. It wont eliminate it altogether but will certainly help to decrease it occurrence.
Although I have since retired from fishing BASS and FLW Tournaments, I have not retired from guiding for smallmouth, walleye and musky on Lake Erie. I made the swap from a Bass Cat bass boat to a more friendly boat, my Lund 2075 with a 250 Mercury Verado. Even though the Lund is easily the driest ride of any Great Lakes boat, I still run a “High Five” Mercury prop. It helps keep my bow high and dry, even when I have a boat load of big boys! It shoots us out of the water like a rocket and on plane faster then you can say “fish on”! So take the advise of an old timer like me when out prowling the depths of Lake Erie; easily the best small mouth Lake anywhere in the western hemisphere!
Stop by my web site at or email me at