A Weekend in the Bass Islands – Quimby's Cruising Guide

A Weekend in the Bass Islands

Two centuries ago, near the soaring granite monument that now marks the spot on South Bass Island, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry defeated the British war fleet with an enormous upset victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, after which he sent word to Gen. William Harrison that, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” Thus ended the crown’s domination of the Great Lakes, turning the tide of the War of 1812.

Perry hid his boats in and around the Bass Islands, setting a deadly trap, and, indeed, the three main landmasses here have been luring boaters for eons — a trend that continues to this day, though for entirely different reasons. It’s no secret that Put-in-Bay, also on South Bass, is among the region’s most popular tourist spots, hosting summer weekend celebrations like no other port in the Great Lakes. And while the party flows to “down under,” Middle and North Bass provide a peaceful getaway for more serene sojourns.

Small craft make the three-mile crossing over Lake Erie’s South Passage, which separates mainland Ohio from the Bass Islands, but they select their crossing days with care, for the shallowest of the five Great Lakes has a reputation for being treacherous when summer squalls appear and kick-up dangerous seas. Ferries take visitors to South Bass, too, from Port Clinton, Catawba Peninsula and Sandusky; Miller Boat Line out of Catawba can carry trailered boats.

A Congenial Host
Whether ferried or making the trip themselves, boaters find the Bass Islands a fantastic cruising ground complete with stretches of sandy beaches, secluded inlets for gunkholing, modern marinas for dockage and public land galore for camping, exploring or simply loafing in the sun.

Truly, the Bass Islands have something for everyone. Take, for instance, the fishing. The area has earned its reputation as “The Walleye Capital of the World” thanks to the absolutely incredible angling opportunities for this tasty and highly prized gamefish. Anglers from across the country flock to the western basin of Lake Erie each year to hire some of the estimated 1,200 charter boats working here.

Scuba divers and snorkelers are reveling in the newfound clarity offered by Lake Erie waters, filtered to near-gin clarity over the past decade by zebra mussels, thumbnail-size mollusks introduced accidently via oceangoing ships. The amazingly prolific bivalves filter gallons of water each day as they feed and have thrived while cleansing the fertile local waters.

South Bass Island
Sightseers and cruising boaters come for the public facilities at South Bass Island State Park, on the island’s western shore, which offers a modern launch ramp, dockage, waterfront campsites, and miles of both rugged limestone and sandy shoreline for sunbathing and exploring.

Shoppers find treasures at tourist shops and boutiques on three-mile-long island, and barflies roost atop a hundred stools that line the World’s Longest Bar, located a long stone’s throw from the Municipal Docks at Put-in-Bay. On summer weekends, boats raft off four abreast here; it’s a short walk across DeRivera Park to the strip of restaurants and bars, which draw revelers from Great Lakes ports as far away as Chicago, Buffalo and Erie, in addition to the nearby cities of Cleveland, Detroit and Toledo.

Downtown Put-in-Bay — Ohio Tourism

While the waterfront in downtown Put-in-Bay hosts most of the “action” on South Bass, all you need to do is go a block or two inland for peace and quiet. A quarter mile east of the municipal marina and the ferry docks is the 25-square-acre Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, dominated by the 352-foot Doric column. For a small fee, you can visit the 11-ton bronze urn topping the monument for an impressive view of the Bass Islands, Kelleys Island to the east and even Canada’s Pelee Island to the north (on a clear day).

A small public beach rests on the memorial grounds, and there’s a designated anchorage on the north side of the monument — a popular place to hook in for a day or night. When hailed by hand or on the VHF radio, a harbor taxi will come and get you, drop you off in Put-in-Bay and return you to your boat for a few bucks per person, each way.

Inland a half-mile from downtown is Heineman’s Winery and, 40 feet beneath it, Crystal Cave, which is the world’s largest geode and a sight worth seeing. Perry’s Cave is also nearby, a limestone cavern complete with stalactites, stalagmites and an underground lake.

Middle & North Bass Islands
Less than a mile north and short ferry ride away from South Bass Island is Middle Bass Island, which was first visited by the French explorer Robert LaSalle in 1679. Much of the island served as a vineyard for generations, and the old Lonz Winery, the main structure of which is still standing, serves as a landmark for boaters heading to the new Middle Bass Island State Park Marina. Here you can find long-term, short-term and day-use dockage. It’s popular with small-boaters who come to spend the day picnicking and sightseeing around the island.

Middle Bass Island — Ohio Tourism

The northern-most island of the chain, North Bass, is privately owned and off limits to the public but offers great gunkholing and fishing in the surrounding waters. A protected lagoon on the island’s south side, in the broad channel between Middle Bass and North Bass, offers a sand bottom off a long spit of beach — which you will be chased off of if you attempt to land. But you can anchor and swim in the clear shallows and in the protected waters of the anchorage.

Author: Dan Armitage is a regular contributor to HeartLand Boating

Getting to the Bass Islands

Ferries capable of taking a trailered boat over to South Bass leave from the northern tip of the Catawba Peninsula, on SR 53, which runs north off the turnpike and SR 2. There, Miller Ferry departs for the 18-minute trip to the south shore of South Bass every half hour from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., early June to early September (less often earlier and later in the season). Go to www.millerferry.com for more information on pricing and schedules, and to reserve a slip at their comfortable and convenient marina at Put-in-Bay.

To take your own boat over, launch at Catawba Island State Park on SR 53 on the west side of Catawba Peninsula, or from the township ramp, also on SR 53, on the east side of Catawba. From either access area, head north past the tip of the peninsula and look for Perry’s Monument, about four miles away, almost due north. The crossing over South Passage to the islands may be rough, for there are currents and boat wakes from innumerable craft both large and small. When in doubt, take the ferry.

If You Go

Bass Islands Travel
An excellent one-stop resource for Bass Islands travel information is Lake Erie Shores & Islands.

South Bass Island Guide
A good source of information is the South Bass Island Guide. Contact the Put-in-Bay Chamber of Commerce to request a copy.

Put-in-Bay Municipal Docks
Get details on dockage and launch fees by calling (419) 285-2068.

South Bass Island State Park
It offers a launch ramp, dockage, camping and sand beach.


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