Wild weather swings might catch fishermen again


PUT-IN-BAY — After a jolt-filled ride up and down the weather yo-yo for the last month or so, ice fishermen are likely dealing with a rare case of motion sickness.

The water, the ice, the weather, and Mother Nature can’t seem to reach any kind of consensus, and the wind and the snow have done nothing but muck up the works even further.

As the temperatures sink to single digits, and then spike into the spring-like realm before dropping anchor again, the anglers desperate for safe, solid ice continue to wait.

“Right now, it’s just too close to call, in my opinion,” said South Bass Island ice guide John Hageman, who witnessed just how rapidly the conditions can change many times during the quarter of a century he spent working at the Stone Lab facility here.

“The ice is reforming, so I know some folks are probably tempted to go out and give it a try, but this is a good time to step back and ask just how important that fish is before you take the chance.”

There was fishable ice around some of the Lake Erie islands about 10 days ago, but a warm spell and gale force winds made a mess of things.

Hageman sees several potential hazards as new ice forms over large areas around the islands and along the lake’s shoreline. The powerful winds that recently stirred up the lake have created a much less than optimum brew for creating new ice, and the continuing snow cover will only degrade an already problematic process.

“If the water is dirty when you make ice, you have all of those particles in the ice that make it less strong and less safe,” he said. “They also absorb heat and make the ice deteriorate quicker.”

The snow serves as an insulation blanket, preventing the cold air temperatures from reaching the ice on the surface of the lake, and slowing the freezing process.

“The snow on top of the ice becomes the monkey in the works,” Hageman said.

Put-in-Bay ice fishing guide Shawn Dages was out on the ice on Monday afternoon and said a steady snow had dumped two or three inches of cover on the ice.

Dages found just two inches of ice about 20 yards offshore on the west side of South Bass Island and six inches inside the protected area around the state park pier. But the damage done by the recent blast of high winds was evident everywhere, and in many areas the broken ice had been pushed into heaps and formed a forbidding bulwark.

“There’s a number of places where you couldn’t get an ATV or a shanty out there because of the way the ice is all stacked up,” Dages said.

After punching several holes through the ice with a spud, Dages found the condition of the water under the surface was also not very encouraging. In the event good ice forms, clarity could still be a make-or-break issue.

“It looked like mud soup,” he said about the water around the islands.

Over the last month, there have been a few ice anglers who have found fishable ice here and there along the lakeshore, off Catawba Island, and in East Harbor and Sandusky Bay, but the consistently erratic weather has chased them off the ice in most places.

Lake Erie charter captain Bud Gehring made a reconnaissance flight over the lake a couple of days ago, and what he saw convinced him to give up on the ice fishing for a second straight year.

“The water in the lake was just gray from all of that wind. It’s making ice now, but the problem is that muddy water will take a lot longer to clear up than it does in the summer,” he said.

“You just can’t tell about these Ohio winters, but this is February, and Mother Nature is going to take over. The sun will get warmer and the days get longer. I’d rather not take the chance.”

Channel 13 chief meteorologist Jay Berschback said any precise predictions more than a week out are not always reliable, but he sees below freezing temperatures for the next couple of days before things warm up into the 30s and possibly reach 40 degrees over the weekend.

Beyond that, Berschback said the ice fishermen might get some more favorable weather, with cold air returning next week and potentially holding throughout the week.

Anglers are especially antsy right now, since the exceptionally mild winter of 2011-12 wiped out last year’s ice fishing season, but Hageman said they might need some luck to avoid facing a somewhat similar scenario this time around.

“February is typically a month for maintaining ice on Lake Erie, not a month for making ice,” said Hageman, who has kept meticulous records of the winter conditions on the lake.

He said there have been several instances historically when the ice fishing season on Lake Erie did not start until February.

In 2007, Hageman said the island ice did not form until mid-February, but stuck around until mid-March and provided “fabulous fishing,” thanks to the robust 2003 year-class walleyes.

Prior to last year’s ice-less season, the 2010 and 2011 winters provided ice around the islands that was ready for fishing traffic by the end of December.

The 2003 season was the longest season of safe ice, with fishing taking place for two months, from January 18 until March 15. Hageman added that 2003 was considered the first time in 50 years that the entire surface of Lake Erie was covered in ice.

WOOD-LUCAS PF BANQUET: The Wood-Lucas chapter of Pheasants Forever will hold its annual banquet on Feb. 23 at the Glass City Boardwalk in Moline. Tickets are $60 each or $80.00 for a couple. The price includes a steak dinner, plus a one-year membership in Pheasants Forever, an organization committed to wildlife habitat conservation. There will also be raffles and auctions, with the proceeds going toward the group’s local work in youth outdoor education and wildlife habitat projects.

The doors open at 5 p.m. with dinner at 6:45. More information is available at the Wood-Lucas PF Facebook page.

Tickets are available by calling Emily Chabra at 419-346-9700.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.