Paul Liikala of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, sports a dandy bluegill he took in Ashtabula County.
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Southeast Michigan's Irish Hills lakes remain a destination of choice for top ice fishing, and Brooklyn, Mich., is hopping with Sunday's upcoming Midwest Open Ice Fishing Tournament.
The Open, which has had a full field of 150 two-member teams for months, carries a total purse of $29,000 in cash and prizes, with a first-place cash prize of $12,000 for the team with the best eight bluegills and best eight crappies.
"We're geared up for the Open. The town is full of fishermen," said Tom Knutson of Knutson's sporting goods at Brooklyn, Mich. Many teams are out fishing in advance to scope out Clark Lake, just west of Brooklyn.
For spectators, the big event Sunday will be the Open weigh-in, set for 2:30 p.m., in Columbia Central High School gymnasium, 11775 Hewitt Rd., off M-50. A map and tournament details are available online at www.midwestopentournament.com. Or call Knutson's at 517-592-2786.
For individuals interested in fishing, not watching, some 50 fishable lakes are within 15 miles of Brooklyn in southeast Jackson County.
Knutson said the superb fishing has continued with very good ice conditions at 16 to 18 inches. "Everything's been solid. It's been a very good year for crappies," he said, noting that several two-pound fish have been weighed. In addition Knutson tells of a 1-pound, 10-ounce redear sunfish -- "that's a trophy fish."
Crappies are being taken on minnows and tiny plastic imitations, bluegills on spikes and waxworms, yellow perch on jigs and minnows. Walleye are being taken at Sand Lake on jigs and minnows and northern pike are found in most lakes on minnows.
If you don't know where to go, try the big popular waters, such as Devils or Wamplers lakes, for starters. Next weekend a Tip-up Festival is set for Devils Lake.
Many private lakes and ponds across northern Ohio, along with some of the upground municipal water-supply reservoirs, also are offering some great panfishing.
Just ask Mike Mainhart, of Vienna, Ohio, near Youngstown. A longtime outdoors buddy, he called on his cellphone -- to rub it in -- en route to a private Ashtabula County lake with buddies Jeff Frischkorn of Mentor-on-the-Lake, and Paul Liikala of Cuyahoga Falls.
I have fished the productive little lake with Frischkorn several times in the "softwater" season and instantly was envious. The lake did not disappoint. Witness Mainhart's enthused ramble:
"You don't always have to be on the big water to experience a great day of fishing. With the early ice this season farm ponds have good 'hard water' for fishing.
"The pond we fished in Ashtabula County on Wednesday had six inches of ice and we cleaned up on slab gills. The fish were suspended a few feet off the bottom in deeper water, eight to 11 feet. Most were caught with wax worms on a variety of jigs and small spoon presentations. Among three of us we went home with a five-gallon bucket full of over 50 hand-size bluegills."
Kinda wish you were there, eh?
Elsewhere, yellow perch fishing is "slow and spotty" at Mitchell's Bay and surrounding locales, on the Ontario side of Lake St. Clair across from Detroit., according to Dennis Shaw at Bass Haven there.
"The guys who are working at it are still picking up fish," said Shaw. "You've got to make the moves." Ice there is 14 to 15 inches, but Shaw said that an ice jam on the St. Clair River upstream has caused the lake to lose about 18 inches of water and that has affected panfishing in close.
So, it is best to check in advance before setting out, online at www.basshavencanada.com or call the shop at 519-354-4242.
On western Lake Erie, lots of shanties and few fish are the story on the popular fishing grounds in protected areas west of South Bass Island and off Catawba State Park, according to the Ohio Division of Wildlife at Sandusky.
Panfish and yellow perch are being caught on some of the harbors and bays in the western basin, the division said. Check with local bait shops or ice guides before venturing out onto Erie's ice. The Sandusky office can supply a list of licensed Erie ice fishing guides, 419-625-8062, or online at www.ohiodnr.com. Type "ice fishing guides" in the search box on the home page.
As for walleye catching, "it's very spotty," summed John Hageman, an ice guide at Put-in-Bay. "We had good action on Saturday, really our only good day this year." His anglers averaged three walleyes each. Most days it is a fish a day.
Very, very few 12-pound-class fish have been taken, with a lot of 14-inch "shorts" from 2009 [the minimum keeper length is 15 inches] and some "little cigars" from 2010 in the sorting mix, the guide said.
Hageman said more than 12 inches of ice are in place, the weather forecast is favorable, and conditions are stable -- if the fish would cooperate. "Everything's ready for the guest of honor to show up."
An Ohio boating education course is set for 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow at Gander Mountain, 1320 Holland-Sylvania Rd., Holland. Call the state watercraft office at Maumee Bay State Park 419-836-6003.
Contact Steve Pollick at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068