The parade out of Crane Creek or Catawba often starts at first light. All-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles pulling trailers, anglers dragging sleds loaded with fishing tackle and pop-up ice shanties — all traversing what appears to be an uncharacteristically thick pavement of frozen water.
Jon Pollauf holds a walleye he caught through the ice on a recent trip out on Lake Erie. Pollauf said he has encountered ice 12-14 inches thick several miles out on the lake.
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Ice fishing on Lake Erie, which has withered and remained mothballed for many anglers in recent years, is alive and thriving as the Siberian-esque winter continues to bare its fangs. On most days, loosely clustered shanty villages are visible close to shore, then another a couple of miles out, and a third vestige maybe four miles into the haze.
“I’m 26, and I’ve lived in Ohio for 24 of those years, and in that time span there have been maybe three or four times when we’ve had ice like this,” said Jon Pollauf, who helps manage the fishing tackle department at Bass Pro Shops in Rossford. “On some weekends, you’ll see 300 or more shanties out there, and over a thousand people fishing on the ice.”
Mother Nature’s relentless ice production, which has prompted an ice fishing resurgence for some and a boom for others this winter, has resulted in a shortage of some of the essentials the sport requires. There has been a run on everything associated with ice fishing — augers, blades, fish finders, heaters, shanties, skimmers, sleds, rod holders, and the wide array of ice-fishing specific tackle.
“It’s unreal, the business we’ve been doing on those items,” Pollauf said. “Over the last few years we’ve had little to no ice, and little to no ice-related sales, but this winter has been crazy. The ice augers are gone, the shanties are gone, and everything else has really been flying out of here. A lot of fishermen have never seen this kind of ice before, and they want to take advantage of it.”
Brad Gahler, the showroom manager at Jann's Netcraft on Briarfield Boulevard in Maumee, said he has experienced the same blitz by anglers anxious to outfit themselves for this seemingly rare ice fishing opportunity.
“We had been holding onto a lot of ice fishing product, but just about everything we’ve been sitting on has been sold out,” he said. “The demand is certainly there, and the interest level is way up, but I don’t think anyone anticipated this kind of ice.”
Rick Ferguson at Al Szuch Live Bait on Corduroy Road in Curtice said his shop does not even open in most winters, but this clearly is not like most winters. Ferguson has the live emerald shiners that anglers are using to tip their jig and spoon-type lures.
“We’ve got good ice out on the lake, so the activity is way up,” he said. “Most of the fishermen I’m hearing from are doing pretty good, but the biggest problem they are running into is finding the tackle and other supplies.”
Pollauf said veterans and novices alike have been scrambling to join the parade.
“We’ve seen some hard-core ice fishermen that go every year — Michigan, Canada — wherever they can find ice,” he said. “But we are also seeing a lot of people who have never ice fished before, and they need everything.”
Pollauf said that while selling ice angling gear, he also dispenses cautionary advice.
“The lake is like a big puzzle, with pressure cracks opening up due to currents and water moving up and down, so no matter how thick the ice is or how much the lake seems to be locked in, you can never let your guard down,” he said. “Most ice fishermen are pretty safety conscious, and that’s the approach you have to take.”
As for the fishing itself, walleye pro Ross Robertson reports that the bite is picking up, but remains a tad spotty. Inconsistent water clarity and fish either hugging the bottom or scattered about have added to the challenge of the chase. Roberston has jumped all over the Crane Creek to Catawba region in recent days, leaving his GPS looking like “an Etch A Sketch gone wrong”. He has found that most of his catch is coming as the result of “subtle” work with a spoon or jig.
WALLEYE DAY: A walleye jig & rig event takes place on Saturday at Jann’s Netcraft, with walleye crawler harness tying demonstrations from pros John Gillman and Dan Hassevoort. There also will be factory reps on hand, and a number of in-store specials associated with the event. The doors open at 9 a.m. at the store on Briarfield Boulevard in Maumee.
SAFE BOATING CLASS: The Toledo Sail & Power Squadron is offering a safe boating class at Mercy St. Charles Hospital on Navarre Avenue in Oregon. Starting Wednesday, the class meets from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. for five consecutive Wednesdays and covers PFDs, anchors, fire extinguishers, distress signals, navigation lights, aids to navigation such as channel markers, rules when navigating waterways, safety tips, the dangers of carbon monoxide, and the proper display of tags and numbers. Certified instructors teach the course, and successful completion earns a boater education certificate. The price for the class is $40, and $20 for an additional family member who shares the book. For information and registration, contact Christopher Hoover at 419-343-0251 or at the email@example.com email address.
BIRD COUNT: The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place from Saturday through Monday, offering an ideal opportunity for individuals to assist in an important study as citizen-scientists. The data from the study help experts better define bird ranges, populations, migration pathways, and habitat needs. Individuals, families, schools, and organizations are invited to count birds at feeders and in backyards, local parks, or other locations. Kids are encouraged to participate. The totals are reported online through the birdsource.org/gbbc Web site. Wild Birds Unlimited is a major sponsor of the project and for more information, contact Wild Birds Unlimited at 419-841-7219 or at their 5236 Monroe St. location.
ANTIQUE LURE SHOW: The 14th Annual Antique Lure Show of Northwest Ohio will be held on Saturday at the Ramada Inn of Montpelier, which is located just off the Ohio Turnpike at Exit 13. The show runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is open to the public, with a $3 admission charge. Free appraisals are available. For more information, contact Larry Oyer at 419-272-3147 or at the firstname.lastname@example.org email address.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.