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The lure of the big catch

Big fish capture the imagination and fuel the pursuit of anglers who cannot resist the drive to raise the bar as high as possible.

They are the reason states keep records and international associations publish lists of those who are recognized worldwide for their magnificent catches.

October is big-fish season here in northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. While we don’t live in world-record territory, our home waters do yield oversized specimens of popular species like walleyes, largemouth and smallmouth bass, muskies and more.

The past few weeks and those leading up to Thanksgiving are perhaps the best time of the year to hook up with big fish.

Bass are especially active now as they feed aggressively to stock their bodies with extra fat to sustain them over the four months when water temperatures here dip into the lower 40s and upper 30s.

Six pounds is considered a huge bass in the lakes around Youngstown and Warren. Many anglers fish years without encountering a largemouth or smallmouth bass in the 6-pound class, but such fish have been showing up more frequently in recent years.

For largemouths, big-fish anglers like the waters of Pymatuning, Shenango and Mosquito Lake. I have personally seen 6-pounders this year on all three of those lakes and I was fortunate to battle and boat a bass in May at Mosquito that pulled the scale to 6 pounds on the nose.

That was in May. But five months later, I hooked a largemouth that weighed 7 pounds, 2 ounces.

The bass was my personal best from northern waters. I’ve caught bass in Florida that weighed 8 and 9 pounds, but the 7-2 is a fish I’ll never forget. As I released the bass and watched it slowly swim out of sight, I knew that such a hefty fish will be hard to beat in the years ahead.

That’s the effect big fish have on anglers. We work hard to find them, savor the success when we catch them and then almost immediately start wishing for the opportunity to beat our own record.

Big walleyes are definitely available for local anglers who can get up to Lake Erie before winter shuts the fishery down.

Walleyes topping 10 pounds are moving toward shallow water all along Ohio’s coastline and a savvy bunch of expert anglers have learned how to target them with night-fishing tactics.

Harbors, breakwalls and lighted piers are excellent cold-water walleye locations. The fish move along the shores in search of the shiners and other baitfish that congregate around areas where current pushes them against rocks and other solid structure.

Big pike and muskies also are active now. As the weed beds at Mosquito shrink, three-foot-long pike are prowling the edges for yellow perch and other small fish. Muskies are doing the same at West Branch and Pymatuning.

October anglers gain an advantage that is impossible to enjoy during the warmer months. Many anglers have stowed their stuff for the season, so those of us who do get out have lots of wide-open water all to ourselves.

I’ll be out there this weekend with high hopes that some 6-pound bass are taking advantage of good weather. And who knows, maybe another 7-pounder will find my lure.

Jack Wollitz is a lifelong angler who is thrilled by every strike, but especially intrigued by the prospects of hooking up with big bass and walleyes in the lakes near Youngstown and Warren. He appreciates emails from readers about their fishing experiences. Send a note to Jack at jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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