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Anglers get in their last hurrah of 2021

For many anglers, the last hurrah of the 2021 fishing season has arrived – and it is shaping up as quite the celebration.

Our lakes soon will be freezing, a fact that is not lost on the fish populations. Snow flurries may be flying, but the fish are eating big-time during these final days of relatively mild conditions in preparation for the scarcity they must survive over the long months in 35-degree water.

Anglers are taking advantage of the annual Thanksgiving week feed-fest throughout northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

Walleyes, steelhead and lake trout, smallmouth bass and crappies are all biting for anglers from Lake Erie to the Ohio River.

Weather permitting, Erie is a great choice this week for those who yearn for oversized walleyes. Big schools of gizzard shad and other forage fish are near the shore in Ohio and Pennsylvania waters, attracting hungry walleyes of all sizes – including trophy class fish topping 10 pounds.

Small-craft warnings may keep boats in the harbors, but when they can get out, anglers are finding hungry walleyes willing to attract trolled lures. Shorebound anglers also are getting in on the action while casting large jerkbaits and lipless crankbaits from piers and break waters.

Late November also is prime time on Erie for steelhead, the hard-fighting rainbow trout that migrate out to the main lake from the rivers where they were stocked to grow fat on the abundant populations of forage fish. The steelhead return to their native rivers to attempt to spawn starting in the fall and continuing throughout the winter months.

From the Vermilion River west of Cleveland to the Rocky, Cuyahoga, Grand, Ashtabula and Conneaut, the steelhead fishing has been excellent and this week will bring another run of trout.

Lake trout, some topping 20 pounds, also are showing up in Lake Erie’s near-shore waters as they move to the shallow rocks and sand bars to feed and spawn. The big fish, members of the char family, add excitement for anglers expecting to catch smallmouth bass and walleyes while casting Erie’s shoals. As November heads toward December, the lake trout fishing continues to be good.

Smallmouth bass also are a Thanksgiving staple for anglers who are not willing to put their fishing tackle away for the winter. Smallies have been feeding aggressively for several weeks, with anglers reporting excellent action on the Ohio and Allegheny rivers, as well as smaller streams like the Mahoning and Shenango.

Erie is a smallmouth mecca from April through November. Reports of excellent catches are coming in from anglers casting deep-diving crankbaits and jigging metal blade baits. Smallies topping five pounds are not uncommon, and specimens in the six- and seven-pound class are possible.

Perhaps the most popular catch during the Thanksgiving weekend are the slab-sided crappies at Mosquito, Pymatuning, Milton, Berlin and Shenango. Anglers dabble jigs tipped with minnows or maggots to tease the crappie into biting around boat docks and other vertical cover.

The season may be winding down, but the diehards who continue to hit their favorite waters in the days ahead will be rewarded with good numbers of some of the biggest fish of the year. That’s one more reason we anglers love the Thanksgiving season.

Jack Wollitz’s new book, The Common Angler: A Celebration of Fishing includes chapters about the responsibility of anglers in sustaining our waters. He enjoys emails from readers. Send a note to jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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