If ice fishing is the way you like to pass the gray and cold of January, go north young man, go north, to the Irish Hills of southeast Michigan.
That is where the premium angling opportunities presently await, at least if a survey of regional locales by the outdoors desk at week's end is any indication.
"It's been great," summed Tom Knutson of Knutson's sporting goods at Brooklyn, Mich. Some 50 fishable lakes are within 15 miles of this southeast Jackson County hamlet.
Said Knutson: "Lots and lots of ice [a good foot or more] and lots and lots of fish." Last week the action in the region was phenomenal, the shopkeeper said.
Crappies on minnows and tiny plastic imitations, bluegills on spikes and waxworms, yellow perch on jigs and minnows. Not to mention walleye at Sand Lake on jigs and minnows and northern pike, "just about anywhere," also on minnows.
If you don't know where to go, try the big popular waters, such as Devils or Wamplers lakes, for starters. Or call Knutson's, 800-248-9318.
Knutson said that the Midwest Open ice fishing tournament, Jan. 30 on Clark Lake, is sold out with 150 teams of 300 fishermen from seven states and two countries in the action.
Plenty of spectator events and check-ins are on the card, however.
After the Irish Hills, the next mostly likely spot to find good conditions is Mitchell's Bay, on the Ontario side of Lake St. Clair across from Detroit.
Cathy Shaw at Bass Haven there said that despite 8 inches of recent snow blowing around, underneath is 10 inches of good ice. On the inner bay at St. Luke's, she said, anglers are finding yellow perch about two miles out.
Panfishing had been excellent in close, but the variable weather interrupted that action, Shaw said.
She expects inshore panfishing to be OK this weekend and thereafter. Check on-line at www.basshavencanada.com or call the shop at 519-354-4242.
Down on western Lake Erie and the walleye capital, action is just cranking up.
Some airboats were expected to try working off Ward Canal and Crane Creek this weekend, according to Rick Ferguson at Al Szuch Live Bait near Curtice. Results next week.
Plenty of shanties have been set up west of South Bass Island, a usual prime spot among winter Erie walleye havens.
But so far just a few fish are being reported, said Gino Barna, Lake Erie law enforcement supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. "They're out in force [at the island]," he added.
Some walleye anglers also are starting to venture out from Catawba Island State Park ramp, with ice in some areas reported to 14 inches. Barna said, however, "inshore ice is rough because of the wind." And don't forget those super-treacherous currents in the "Slop Chute," the passage between Catawba Point and South Bass Island.
East Harbor has some shanties out, accessed off the boat launch-ramp at East Harbor State Park. Anglers there now are sorting bluegills, Barna said. John Jokinen, at Jann's Netcraft, said that the panfishing had been phenomenal at East Harbor until the brief warm-up earlier this month. "The warm-up changed everything," he said.
Jokinen said that ice-augers have been flying out the door, so plenty of anglers are gearing up. "This is the weekend everybody is going out." All of which makes sense, given the end earlier last week of the muzzleloader deer season and the end of Canada goose season Sunday in the North Zone.
Overall for the big lake, expect action to pick up as long as conditions remain relatively stable. The arithmetic is simple: Storms and winds equal big mess. The state's Barna also noted that yellow perch action is plentiful in the shallow Sandusky Bay near White's Landing. But he urges extreme caution because of the upwelling and ice-erosive effects of bay-bottom springs in the area.
As ever with Lake Erie, in the southerly region of the ice fishing zone, conditions day to day are problematic. No official or agency will tell you the ice is OK. You are on your own. Just be smart. Ask around. Don't follow another guy just because he is ahead of you at the ramp. Warnings about what to do in terms of ice safety abound; repeating them is playing a broken record [if you remember the vinyl days].
However, a wealth of information, safety tips, and a list of experienced, licensed guides can be found online by Google searching "ODNR Lake Erie ice fishing guides."
Inland in northwest Ohio, remember that the state's popular Lake La Su An chain of lakes in Williams County again is closed for ice fishing this winter. The Ohio Division of Wildlife continues to plead poverty, even though it supposedly is budget-proof because of its exclusive legal rights to user fees [your hunting, fishing, and trapping license and permit fees, and federal excise tax-revenue returns of 11 and 10 percent, respectively, for equipment, etc., among other funds].
That said, you can try any of the upground water-supply reservoirs scattered across the region. Most have walleye or yellow perch or panfish in combinations thereof. But you are on your own. "We don't suggest any place because of the liability issue," said Ed Lewis, a fisheries biologist at Ohio Wildlife District 2.
For a list of the region's reservoirs, visit on-line at www.wildohio.com/fishing.
Contact Steve Pollick at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.