Erie ice a frozen magnet for anglers chasing big walleye

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  • The winter without end soldiers on. The numbers of the season that snap most people to attention are the six feet (and counting) of snow, the slew of sub-zero temperatures, and the most recent count on the potholes, which is approaching a septillion.

    Lake Erie ice fishermen are shaking their heads over this one: 24 inches of ice in many places, and it is still building.

    “We could still be fishing on good ice when April gets here, and that will be a first for me,” ice guide Mike Patterson said this week. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and we’ve fished until the middle of March before, but that’s it. This winter is definitely an unusual one.”

    This week, Patterson had his 15 ice shanties working in the area around West Sister Island, where the fishing had picked up after a recent lull.

    Walleye in the eight, nine, and 10-pound class were being pulled up from a variety of depths by his clients, most of who travelled here from out-of-state to take advantage of the rare opportunity.

    “They like to come to Lake Erie for the trophies,” Patterson said. “We’ve got big fish here.”

    The brief warm spell of a week ago, with 50 degree temperatures and a heavy rain, did not do much to damage the ice, but when it was followed by our current sharp cold snap, the combination actually enhanced things.

    Tammy Irby from Petersburg, Mich., caught this 30-inch walleye which weighed almost 12 pounds on a recent ice fishing outing on Lake Erie.
    Tammy Irby from Petersburg, Mich., caught this 30-inch walleye which weighed almost 12 pounds on a recent ice fishing outing on Lake Erie.

    “The rain melted some of the snow piled on top of the ice, and with the cold we’ve had in the last few days, it all solidified and locked up again,” said John Hageman, a retired ice guide and a veteran of the winters around the Lake Erie islands.

    “The warm weather and rain, followed by these single digits — it’s actually made a lot of areas more palatable,” Hageman said. “And with more cold, and sub-zero cold, coming, it’s just going to get better.”

    Hageman said the water clarity was exceptional around mid-week, when he could see a lure 20-feet down below the ice. A Tuesday outing produced 15 walleyes for his group of three fishermen, and each of them got at least one trophy-size fish.

    “And there were a few yellow perch mixed in there, and lots of white perch and white bass. You could have filled a bucket with all of the white bass we caught, and most of them were in the 12-15 inch range.”

    Hageman was fishing north and west of South Bass Island, and working in 31-feet of water. He used a Swedish Pimple, in nickel with blue metallic tape, to fool the walleye.

    “This is unusual,” Hageman said about the nearly two-feet of clear ice he found around the islands. “Ice like this hasn’t been seen in quite a while. I never like to make promises too far ahead, but the ice fishing possibilities certainly look good for the lion’s share of March.”

    Veteran ice guide Bud Gehring said his 13 shanties were sitting on a minimum of 18 inches of ice in the area west of the islands group, between Green and Rattlesnake islands.

    The fishing picked up around mid-week, and Gehring expects it to continue to trend in a positive direction.

    Gehring has seen clients from as far away as Atlanta make the trip to pursue Lake Erie walleye this winter, a trend that Rick Ferguson has watched play out from his surprisingly busy post at Al Szuch Live Bait in Curtice, Ohio.

    “I’m seeing fishermen from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and all over the place,” Ferguson said. “We haven’t had ice like this in a long time, and I think the word has been out for about a month now. The fishermen have been pouring in, and this has been a nice little shot in the arm for all of us.”

    Ice guide Mike Patterson can be reached at 419-308-6925. Ice guide Bud Gehring can be reached at 419-261-0165.

    OPEN WATER: Despite all of the cold weather and ice cover on Lake Erie, anglers are reminded to use caution everywhere on the lake, since pressure cracks appear unexpectedly and can be widened with wind and current. There is also a warning to use extreme caution from Catawba Point east toward Marblehead, since a commercial tug was working in the area this week and breaking up the ice.

    WALLEYE LIMIT: Anglers fishing the Ohio waters of Lake Erie are reminded that as of Saturday the daily limit on walleye is reduced to four, and the minimum size limit of 15 inches remains in place. Since last May, the walleye limit in Ohio has been six per day, but special regulations come into play from March 1 through April 30, timed with the spring spawning runs in Lake Erie tributaries. In the Michigan waters of Lake Erie, the walleye daily limit remains six, until April 30, with a 15-inch minimum size.

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