My earliest memories of bass fishing on Lake Erie started with the inception of what was, I believe, the first Great Lakes bass club in the state of Ohio. We’d schedule all of our events around the big water, as the inland fisheries of Ohio were poor by comparison when it came to catch rates.

Occasionally, Erie wouldn’t cooperate, leaving us hemmed in to a back-up area like the Black River near Lorain. There, fishing was industrial. Filmy waters produced an unmistakable smell and meager catches, a couple largemouths likely winning a one-day tourney.

I hadn’t been back to the Black in probably 20 years, but recent news brought a smile. It seems things have changed – for the better. I had guessed something was going on, as old buddies had recently scheduled tournaments on the river and weighed solid limits of fish. But it took a scientific report to make me a believer.

As part of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the U.S. and Canada (updated in 2012), the EPA heads a number of programs designed to address special Areas of Concern (AOCs) across the watershed. Early on, the Black River made the list, and a number of programs have been implemented to combat water quality and environmental issues across the region.

The list of projects is impressive, to say the least. Bank erosion, municipal discharges, hazardous waste, stormwater run-off, fish habitat and agricultural issues have all been taken into account. And while a number of projects are still underway, significant progress has been made. Three of the nine listed “implements” suffered by the river have been successfully removed, with more predicted this year. In addition, a massive habitat project to protect aquatic birds has thrived.

It comes as no surprise that fish, often bass, are some of the earliest beneficiaries of such work. As we all know, given the chance to eat and spawn successfully, bass will usually take care of the rest, to the benefit of local anglers who find themselves blown off the big lake. In addition, kayak anglers are now frequenting the Black River as much as those in powerboats, without worry of taking a dunk in a cesspool.

Much of the funding comes from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. There’s a ton of info and project specifics listed on their site, and a map where users can zoom into any locale they choose. Cool stuff.

Across the lake in Michigan, I was just as enlightened to find even more projects aimed at improving water quality. There, the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes (OGL) works tirelessly to ensure the greatest good for the state’s top resource and tourist draw.

While I’ve often been critical of Michigan’s silly boating laws and bumpy roads, one thing I cannot take away from the Wolverines is their drive to keep the Great Lakes clean and address threats to their waters. The OGL recently released its State of the Great Lakes Report for 2020, and left no room for questions.

In this report, we learn the intended direction of programs to address issues like algae blooms, rising water levels, Asian Carp threats and pathogen testing. Again, a quick read hit home.

While living near the waters of Lake St. Clair a decade ago, I was disappointed by daily beach shut-downs and fish consumption advisories. A good breeze from the south brought a distinguishable smell to our lakeshore area and flood waters sometimes resulted in turds coming down the Clinton River, site of the state’s busiest boat ramp.

The Great Lakes Report listed work being done in this area and more; anglers around the region will be the winners. I encourage the throngs of bassers who enjoy time on places like St. Clair, Sturgeon, Grand Traverse and Saginaw bays, or the Detroit River and Western Lake Erie to check out the report and do your own research when discussing topics.

That’s my goal here – just to shed some light on what’s out there for your review. For me, the environmental reports have always received a second look. My education in fisheries science taught me that, given the proper habitat, freshwater fish are pretty easy to care for. So water quality issues are always of primary importance.

I compare the positive messages of Great Lakes initiatives to the daily dose of dismal news in my present home state of Florida. Here, closures and die-offs are, literally, a daily occurrence. The incredible population increase, combined with archaic water treatment and farming practices, have created problems that will require Herculean efforts to repair. As politicians finally realize the monetary value of clean water and tourism, perhaps our future may also start to brighten.
But, for now, I encourage you all to read learn more of what’s being done around the Great Lakes. It’s both enlightening and encouraging, and sure to put a smile on the face of a smallmouth.

(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)