A natural 3,655-acre embayment on Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie shoreline, Presque Isle Bay offers next-level fishing. In addition to being the oldest port in the Great Lakes, it’s also a breeding ground for most of the fish species that call Lake Erie home.
Bass fishing in Presque Isle Bay is legendary. But the bay also provides exceptional fishing for perch, pike, crappie, and many other fish.
The city of Erie overlooks Presque Isle Bay on its southern shore while Presque Island State Park encompasses the long, hook-like peninsula that forms the bay’s western and northern shores.
The inside shoreline of Presque Isle Peninsula offers access to extensive weedy shallows and marshes. These areas, along with “bays-within-the-bay” like Misery Bay and Marina Bay, provide some of Presque Isle Bay’s best fishing.
On the mainland side, abundant piers, bulkheads, rocky reefs and other artificial structures can be equally productive.
Overall, Presque Isle Bay offers excellent access for shore-bound anglers as well as boaters.
Smallmouth Bass Fishing
It’s hard to argue that any place other than Presque Isle Bay offers the best bass fishing in Pennsylvania. Smallmouth bass funnel into the bay in the millions every spring to spawn, and catching 5- and 6-pound smallies is a possibility on any given day this time of year.
Presque Isle Bay starts to warm up much faster than the rest of Lake Erie in spring, and smallmouths are drawn to the bay as early as April. As a result, a few warm, sunny days early in the spring can trigger a phenomenal bass bite.
Smallmouth bass fishing in Presque Isle Bay peaks in May—the spawn typically takes place toward the end of that month—and continues to be excellent in June. There can be great fishing in June as post-spawn smallmouths feed heavily on shad, shiners, alewives and gobies.
But smallmouths start to leave the bay as it heats up, and by late July, almost all of them will have returned to the main lake. A few will return in fall as the water cools, but nothing like the numbers seen in spring.
One of the key areas for smallmouths is the shipping channel that leads into the mouth of Presque Isle Bay at its eastern end. Bass often cruise up and down the edge of the channel, where the bottom quickly drops from 6- to 8-foot flats down to 30-plus feet.
Finesse worms on drop-shot rigs are popular for fishing along the channel, along with wacky worms, which can also be fished on a drop-shot.
Old standbys like goby-colored tube jigs are also excellent, and Ned rigs have gained popularity in recent years.
Manufactured structures like breakwalls, docks and piers along the southern shoreline of the bay are also great places to target spring smallmouths. When bass are active and feeding up off the bottom, try a Rapala Shad Rap, soft jerkbait or curlytail grub.
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Largemouth Bass Fishing
Presque Isle Bay understandably gets a lot of attention for its smallmouth bass. But it also offers a phenomenal largemouth fishery.
While a significant part of the bay’s smallmouth population is seasonal, largemouth bass are year-round residents.
Largemouth fishing gets into gear around April or May most years and stays strong throughout the summer months. During that time, 12- to 18-inch largemouths weighing 1 to 3 pounds are incredibly common, and anglers catch occasional 5-pounders here.
The bay develops an abundance of vegetation throughout the summer, and largemouths tend to gravitate toward weed beds. Fishing along weed lines in the main bay is a good bet, and many largemouths are also caught along dock and pier structures.
Misery Bay and the lagoons along the north shore of Presque Isle Bay are also largemouth hot spots, especially in late spring and early summer. Largemouths spawn throughout this area.
Largemouth bass have a lot of forage to choose from in Presque Isle Bay. Lures like Zoom Flukes, white spinnerbaits and Rapala X-Raps nicely imitate the alewives that bass commonly dine on, while bottom-bouncing lures like tubes can be used to mimic round gobies.
There’s also a good chance you’ll get into a good topwater bite right around dawn and dusk. When in doubt, try tossing a wacky-rigged Senko alongside docks and weed edges, especially in areas where there’s a major drop-off or where rocks and weeds intermingle.
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Yellow Perch Fishing
Lake Erie offers some of the best yellow perch fishing on Earth, with Presque Isle Bay serving as one of the lake’s major perch breeding grounds. And while there are some major seasonal perch migrations to be aware of, you can usually count on catching at least a few here in any season.
That being said, the best perch fishing in the bay is through the ice in winter and during the early spring season just after ice-out, when perch spawn in reedy shallows along the arm of Presque Isle Peninsula.
Presque Isle Bay freezes long before the main lake, and there’s usually safe ice from January through February. Ice fishing action can be off-and-on as schools of perch roam under foot.
But when the bite is on, it’s really on. It’s not uncommon to catch your limit of perch measuring 9 to 12 inches, with occasional jumbos up to 15.
Jigging spoons and micro jigs tipped with maggots are effective, but the bait of choice is a lively emerald shiner.
Emerald shiners are the preferred bait during the open water season too, but perch will also gobble up bits of nightcrawler, along with small tube jigs and curlytail grubs.
When there’s ice on the bay, try to find a spot with green vegetation. When in doubt, look to the location of other anglers as a guide. After ice-out in March and April, key areas include the piers leading into Marina Bay, Dobbins Landing, and the channel at the entrance to Presque Isle Bay.
Summer can be hit-or-miss. Some years, surprising numbers of jumbo perch head into the bay to feed on schools of shiners, but it’s more typical to catch small perch here this time of year, while bigger perch school up on the main lake north of the peninsula.
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Northern Pike Fishing
An abundant year-round population of northern pike resides in Presque Isle Bay, making this one of the best pike fishing spots in Pennsylvania. Big, toothy northerns are caught frequently through the ice and throughout the open-water seasons.
Pike measuring 24 to 36 inches are common in Presque Isle Bay, with occasional giants weighing over 15 pounds and stretching a tape measure to 40 inches. The best tactics and location depend on your timing.
Presque Isle Bay’s pike spawn virtually the minute ice recedes from the bay. There are great opportunities to take advantage of the early pike bite in shallow water from March through April, and often well into May.
The best spots are shallow, weedy areas inside Presque Isle Peninsula on the north side of the bay. Marina Bay and the connected lagoons can be excellent, along with Misery Bay and Horseshoe Pond.
Early in the spring, the key is locating areas where green vegetation has persisted through winter. As weed beds regrow throughout springtime, pike continue to relate to vegetation.
Spinnerbaits, soft plastic jerkbaits and swimbaits are all great pike lures and plenty of good-sized northerns are still caught on classics like Dardevle Spoons (try the yellow/red diamond pattern to imitate perch).
By the time June rolls around, pike will have largely transitioned to deeper parts of the bay.
Therefore, during summer target drop-offs, humps and deep weed edges with diving crankbaits, jerkbaits and jigs.
Some big pike return to shallow areas in fall and will prowl weedy areas beneath the ice throughout winter.
Other Fish Species
Presque Isle Bay is one of the primary breeding grounds for a wide range of Lake Erie fish. Some are year-round residents, while others enter the bay for only a brief window of time.
Although Lake Erie proper isn’t usually associated with crappie fishing, Presque Isle Bay supports a healthy population of black crappies. Anglers commonly catch crappies in the 9- to 12-inch range, along with occasional slabs up to 16 inches.
Anglers catch many crappies through the ice in winter. Crappies tend to share habitat with perch during the colder months, so a mixed bag is common.
That being said, the best crappie fishing takes place after the ice has receded from the bay.
In April and May, there is usually excellent crappie fishing in the shallow, marshy areas along the north shore of Presque Isle Bay, with Misery Bay being a perennial hotspot. Look for crappies around brush, vegetation and shoreline reeds.
Crappies often suspend below floating marina docks as well.
Live shiners are the top-producing bait.
By summer, crappies typically disperse throughout deeper weedy areas in the bay.
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Bluegill & Sunfish
Bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish are among the most common fish in Presque Isle Bay, and anglers can easily catch them using a wide range of simple fishing methods.
A bit of nightcrawler, either beneath a bobber or on the bottom, is often all you need.
Prime spots include Horseshoe Pond, Misery Bay, Marina Bay and North Pier on the peninsula side of the bay, along with South Pier, Dobbins Landing and the Bayfront Parkway piers on the mainland side.
Bluegill and sunfish bite readily throughout the warmer months, as well as through the ice in winter, often in relatively shallow water. They spawn in huge numbers across the bay’s soft-bottomed flats starting in June, which is when anglers catch some of the biggest bluegill.
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Lake Erie offers an impressive and often underutilized channel catfish population, with Presque Isle Bay being one of the places where large catfish are most reliably caught. Spring and summer are the best times to catch them.
Catfish aren’t quite as abundant here as they are in some Pennsylvania lakes and rivers, but they’re some of the biggest in the state. It’s not uncommon to catch catfish over 10 pounds, and occasional giants may top 25 pounds.
The top spots are the North Pier and South Pier, which extend along the entrance to the bay at its eastern end. The deep channel between the piers serves as an avenue for catfish entering and exiting the bay.
Channel drop-offs within the bay and mouths of tributaries like Cascade Creek are also prime areas.
Chicken livers, nightcrawlers, cut bait and shrimp are all good bait options, and the best bite is often after dark.
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Trout & Steelhead
Presque Isle Bay might not be the first place that springs to mind for trout fishing, but it’s a surprising winter haunt for Lake Erie steelhead. These hard-fighting lake-run rainbow trout can be caught throughout the bay in winter.
Try different depths through the ice, as steelhead are known to be nearly anywhere in the water column this time of year. Jigging spoons and live minnows are the best baits.
The occasional big brown trout is also caught in Presque Isle Bay through the ice, though not often.
Cascade Creek, a tributary that empties into the bay within the city of Erie, is also stocked annually with trout, as are West Basin Pond and East Basin Pond on Presque Isle Peninsula.
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The majority of Lake Erie walleye fishing takes place out on the open lake, not in Presque Isle Bay. But there are seasonal opportunities to catch some nice walleye here.
Ice anglers occasionally pull hefty walleye out of Presque Isle Bay in winter using live minnows and jigging spoons.
And few post-ice-out beauties are usually caught in the bay in early March, before the season closes, especially by trolling the southwest end of the bay.
Walleye season is closed from March 15 until the first Saturday in May while they spawn. Once the season reopens in May, anglers catch a few from shore at Dobbins Landing and from the North Pier and South Pier at the entrance to the bay.
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Planning Your Trip
Spring is the season that offers the widest range of fishing options on Presque Isle Bay, but every season has its opportunities. Fishing tournaments are common during summer, and the area is popular for swimming and pleasure boating during the warmest weather as well.
Getting to Presque Isle Bay
About 2 hours north of Pittsburgh via I-79, the city of Erie directly overlooks Presque Isle Bay. The waterfront is just minutes from downtown, with the Bayfront Parkway running roughly parallel to the shore. Peninsula Drive leads out onto Presque Isle Peninsula.
Bank & Boat Access
Presque Isle Bay offers a wide range of public access. Two of the most popular bank fishing spots are North Pier and South Pier, which form the two sides of the channel that enters the mouth of the bay at its eastern end.
South Pier is open for fishing 24 hours a day. North Pier, because it is located within Presque Isle State Park, is only open during daylight hours.
Presque Isle State Park has quite a few additional access options as well. Four boat launch sites are located within the park on Presque Isle Peninsula, and roads and trails run alongside several miles of shoreline on both the bay and the main lake.
Presque Isle Marina, located inside the park on Marina Bay, offers launch ramps, boat fuel and 500 docking slips, and is open from May 1 through October 31. The East Pier and West Pier, at the entrance to Marina Bay, are popular for bank fishing.
There are some great public options on the mainland side too. Port of Erie operates two free public boat ramps on the bay (Bay Harbor Marina and at the foot of Chestnut Street) and two more just outside the bay on Lake Erie (Lampe Marina and at the foot of East Avenue).