Just about the time you think winter is starting to shudder to a halt, the ice fishing gets good - in some places at least.
Ice anglers who favor the west side of South Bass Island have struggled for most of this late-starting season, mainly because of poor water clarity. Not any more. The South Bass-Rattlesnake-Green island triangle is the go-to place right now, with ice still averaging 11 to 12 inches.
"I've never seen anything this incredible," enthused ice guide John Hageman yesterday at Put-in-Bay. "I put down lures without minnows and I'm catching them. I know what happened. We had nine inches of visibility in the water all winter. Now the water's cleared up and they're feeding like there is no tomorrow."
Speaking of no tomorrow, beware of unstable, treacherous shoreline ice off the mainland. Ice break-throughs by four-wheelers, trailers, and snow machines have been reported on the lakefront grapevine from Crane Creek to Marblehead.
"Airboats are the only [smart and safe] option unless you fly to the island," summed Travis Hartman, a state fisheries biologist at Sandusky.
Farther west, ice conditions appear unsafe at Brest Bay at Monroe, Mich., according to Brest Bay Marina, and resident-angler Earl Nowak reports open water at Bolles Harbor, just south of Monroe.
Hageman said he took his six-walleye limit in just over an hour Tuesday, including a fish of nearly eight pounds. A client, JoAnn Damon of Columbus, took an 11-pounder. The guide said his keepers are averaging four to six pounds.
Activity really lit up Tuesday, the guide noted, but was continuing yesterday. His morning customers, Gale Keller of Swanton and Gordon Bares of Holland, started at 10:30, had limits by noon, and continued fun-fishing with catch-and-release. Same went for Tom Hamlin of North Ridgeville, Ohio.
Hageman strongly advises that anglers call ahead for bookings and conditions, given the shifty weather at season's end. He can be reached at 419-285-2029, guide Pat Chrysler at 419-285-4631, and guide Bud Gehring at 419-285-3615.
Inland in northwest Ohio, hard-water angling is all but finished because of recent warm weather and rains. "The ice is getting treacherous," said Larry Goedde, fish management supervisor for Ohio Wildlife District 2. He said the state has closed its popular Lake La Su An lakes in Williams County for the winter, with open-water fishing to resume in April.
In southeast Michigan's popular Irish Hills region, however, generally colder weather has kept ice in good shape and the fishing overall is excellent, according to Tom Knutson at Knutson's in Hudson, Mich.
At Mitchell's Bay, Ont., on Lake St. Clair, too much rain and shifty weather have left only "walking ice" and hard-to-predict possibilities, said Cathy Shaw at Bass Haven there. A cold front could produce quickly improved conditions, she said, asking anglers to call ahead, 519-354-4242, or visit the Web site, www.basshavencanada.com.
Ohio's bald eagle nesting season for 2005 officially is under way with confirmation that a pair of eagles in Huron County has begun incubating eggs, the Ohio Division of Wildlife said yesterday.
The pair began incubating the first week of February, meaning a hatchout is expected in mid- March. Normal incubation time for eagles is 35 days. A record 108 eagle nests in 37 counties in 2004 produced a record 127 eaglets.
Possible new nests should be reported to the wildlife division's Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station near Oak Harbor, 419-898-0960. Eagle nests are protected by law and must not be disturbed.
In other birding news, early migrants are returning in noticeable numbers to the region.
The first killdeer, a familiar shorebird, returned Tuesday and the first rusty blackbird also was heard on Tuesday, said Julie Shieldcastle, executive director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory at Oak Harbor.
She said that red-winged blackbirds are migrating and singing, and "the tundra swans are moving heavy." Recent days of warm southwest winds triggered the movements. For starters, swan watchers can search for these large, white wildfowl on cropland around Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area, both along State Rt. 2 in western Ottawa County.
A few turkey vultures, or buzzards, also have been noted already, their famed March 15 appearances at Hinckley, Ohio, notwithstanding. Shieldcastle said she suspects that a few vultures may be staying the winters now.
BSBO is conducting a training workshop Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at Macomber Lodge, Pearson Metropark, for volunteers interested in assisting the observatory with its spring raptor migration study. Call Shieldcastle at 419-898-4070.
Last and not least, in birding news of a different stripe, the Wood/Lucas Chapter of Pheasants Forever has set its 15th annual fund-raising dinner for Feb. 26 at Glass City Boardwalk in Moline. For tickets call 419-354-4499 by Tuesday.
Saturday-Fifth annual antique fishing lure show, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Ramada Inn, Montpelier; call Larry Oyer, 419-272-3147, or Jim Lovejoy, 419-485-9076.
Saturday-Fly-tying demonstrations by Chris Helm, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Cabela's, Dundee, Mich.
Saturday-Earth pond maintenance and construction program, 2 to 4 p.m., Hidden Lake Gardens, M-50 west of Tecumseh, Mich.; call the Gardens, 517-431-2060.
Tomorrow and Monday-Public trapshoot, 6 p.m., Wolf Creek Sportsmen's Association, 349 Teachout Rd., north of State Rt. 2, Curtice; voice-activated traps now available; also, fish fry Friday with trapshoot, call Rick Ferguson, 419-836-5264; also, Feb. 26, fourth annual wild game dinner, 5:30 p.m., at St. Clement Hall, 2990 Tremainsville Rd., for tickets call Bob Trapp, 419-292-1806, or Rick Ferguson.
Contact Steve Pollick at: