The best ice-fishing season in a decade is well under way, and hundreds of anglers have scattered across parts of western Lake Erie and inland ponds, lakes and upground reservoirs in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
As always, anglers should be advised by safety authorities about the variability and potential dangers of thin ice and the possibility of being set adrift on Lake Erie.
Fishermen are pursuing everything from walleye to panfish, and many are having good success. December's wintry blast, with record snow and lots of cold temperatures, is responsible for the setup, fishing guides and bait shop keepers say.
The predicted moderate daytime temperatures later this week are not expected to ruin the fishing fun, as long as the warming is not long-lasting and nighttime temperatures drop below freezing.
Following is a rundown of various areas and ice-fishing situations in the region:
Western Lake Erie - “I haven't seen early (season) fishing like this in probably 10 years,” said John Hageman, a guide at South Bass Island, where ice is running a foot thick in popular fishing grounds.
Hageman's parties took 72 walleyes on Sunday, and by mid-day yesterday his anglers had taken 18 walleye. About three-fourths of the fish are 13 to 14 inches long, with some running as long as 271/2 inches, he added.
The guide, one of several on the island, said that a No. 5 Jigging Rapala has been a top bait in chartreuse, fire tiger, and yellow perch patterns. He has been tipping the treble hook with two minnows and attaching a stinger hook to the treble as well.
A very unusual catch - a 51/2–foot lake sturgeon - also was reported Sunday afternoon off Catawba Island State Park on the mainland. Dave Davies, a fisheries biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, estimated that the fish weighs 40 to 50 pounds.
It was taken by Andrew Krueger of Brunswick, which is near Cleveland. The angler, who released the fish after measuring it, caught it after a 45-minute battle on an ice rod using 12-pound-test line and a Swedish Pimple ice-jig tipped with minnows.
“This is the first (sturgeon) we've had reported coming through the ice,” said Davies, who tracks sturgeon reports closely. Sturgeon are a bony-plated, prehistoric species that are totally protected. They must be released. Catches should be reported to Davies at 419-625-8062.
South Bass islanders started sneaking out on the ice as early as Dec. 27, Hageman said, but island guides did not start taking customers until last Friday.
The guide said that the moderate weather forecast later this week should not harm the ice and should help smooth it.
On the mainland, he said some dangerous open leads can be found around Mouse Island, where currents always are treacherous. Some open leads also exist between Catawba Island peninsula and Green Island.
Vince Lamberjack of Lamberjack Marina near Davis-Besse said that ice off Crane Creek is setting up in excellent condition, eight to 12 inches thick, from shore all the way to West Sister Island. But a ship apparently passed through last Wednesday and broke open a channel, which was opened to 80 feet wide by wind.
The 80-foot lead runs from Crane Creek to Camp Perry about a mile and a half offshore. Some anglers, however, were fishing off Camp Perry, added Lamberjack.
Doug Johnson, a biologist at the state's Lake Erie Fisheries Research Station at Sandusky, said that some anglers have been fishing off Catawba Island State Park, going about a mile or more toward South Bass and Green islands.
The state wildlife division also reported ice shanties and activity off White's Landing on Sandusky Bay, southwest of Sandusky. Some large yellow perch are being reported in the catch there.
North of Toledo on the big lake, some walleye and yellow perch are being reported at Brest Bay and off Pointe Mouillee near Monroe, according to Tammy Smith at Matthews Bait Shop there. The action is centered in 12 to 15-foot depths, about two and a half miles offshore.
As always, both the U.S. Coast Guard and Ohio Division of Wildlife caution anglers that ice is never considered “safe” per se, because of the potential effects of currents and channels beneath the ice, and wind and related weather conditions. This ice quality and thickness can vary greatly.
“Commercial boat traffic on Lake Erie is extending longer than normal and also impacts ice quality,” the wildlife division said. Newly formed ice is stronger than that which has thawed and re-frozen.
Probably the best safety precaution is to hire a certified guide. A list of them can be obtained by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE. It also is wise to contact local bait shops to inquire about known areas of dangerous or thin ice.
Also, anglers are urged to fish with companions and to let others know their fishing plans and locations. A cellular telephone wrapped in a plastic bag also is a sound precaution.
In addition to fishing gear, smart safety equipment includes two ice picks, screwdrivers, or large nails on a cord. Hung around the neck of outerwear, they can be used to pull yourself out, should a break-through occur. A whistle to hail help also is a good idea; they can be heard at greater distances and more distinctly than a human voice, even at holler-and-yell levels.
Other precautions also can include dressing in layers; carrying extra changes of clothes and wearing a life jacket. Gear can be handily transported on a plastic sled.
Lake St. Clair - The popular Ontario-side fishing grounds have 10 to 15 inches of ice and have been active since before Christmas, according to Dennis Shaw at Bass Haven near Mitchell's Bay.
Most of the angling so far has been for yellow perch but panfish action is expected to warm up soon, Shaw added. The area from Mitchell's Bay on to St. Luke's Bay has been good and St. Ann's Bay on Walpole Island has been producing very good catches of both perch and panfish, he said.
Northwest Ohio inland - Most upground reservoirs are producing good numbers of fish, according to Larry Goedde, fish management supervisor for Ohio Wildlife District 2.
Here are some of the top impoundments and the active fish: Findlay reservoirs No. 1 and No 2, catfish and yellow perch; Lima Bresler and Ferguson reservoirs, perch, bluegill and walleye; Wauseon No. 2, bluegill, and Beaver Creek near Green Springs in Seneca County, perch, bluegill and walleye.
Ice flies dressed with waxworms are working for perch and panfish, and ice jigs with minnows are working for walleye, Goedde said.
The state's popular Lake LaSuAn chain of lakes in Williams County opens this week for ice fishing. The lakes will be open Thursdays and Sundays only.
Reservations for next week only can be made Tuesday, 9 a.m. to noon, at 419-636-6189. Other weeks, make reservations on Mondays, 9 a.m. to noon. The lakes produce excellent numbers of large bluegills.
Irish Hills lakes, southeast Michigan - The best fishing in 10 years is reported by Emerson Parks at Three Lakes Supply near Brooklyn.
He said that almost all the region's lakes are producing fish, though action may be spotty from day to day. Ice averages around 10 inches with good insulating snow cover.
Crappies are being taken on minnows and bluegill and yellow perch are being taken on waxworms, mousies and spikes.
Olander Lake - This Sylvania Township impoundment has been producing trout, pike, bluegill and perch, according to Toledo anglers David McDowell and Jim Korecki.
Steve Pollick is The Blade's outdoor writer. E-mail him at email@example.com.