Ice fishing along Lake Erie has seen some major changes over the past 40 years or so.
I can remember driving north in the 70s and 80s, parking along the road near the tip of Catawba Island, and pulling a sled out to the east side of Mouse Island to join dozens of others already there. My friends and I would bore holes, put down rigs with a sinker below two short side lines, bait No. 6 hooks with shiners, and patiently watch our bobbers for a bite. They were seldom long in coming. The typical catch was a good pile of yellow perch, a few sharp-toothed little smelt, and an occasional small walleye, rarely more than 12 inches. A good day and a good catch.
Sometimes we'd move on down to Marblehead if the ice was unusually thick, and go for perch and always scarce walleye, but it was chancy then as it is now with currents that undercut the ice and winds that sometimes broke off large sections. Once I was caught on a floe and made it to shore only with the help of a wide board someone had placed over the widening crack.
Again, things have changed. The last time I checked Mouse Island no one was there, and the last time I fished it, I caught nothing. Perch movements have changed drastically, I think because even a dumb eight-inch perch knows he can be eaten by a six-pound walleye, and they move into areas where walleye don't go. Last winter the only perch I heard of being caught, other than near shore at Old Sandusky Bay Bridge, White's Landing, and downtown Sandusky were off Camp Perry.
But walleye turned up at a number of places and I don't mind pulling a fat walleye through the ice. How and where can you do it once ice becomes safe on the big lake? Probably the easiest way is to hire a guide at least for that initial learning trip. I checked the Internet for Lake Erie fishing guides and got a two-page list more than 50 which gives plenty to choose from.
Many of them were working out of Catawba Island State Park, some out of East Harbor or Camp Perry and a few at South Bass Island. Guides will take you out, put you in a pre-heated shanty, provide bait, and haul you back at a pre-set time. They're worth the price if you're new to Erie fishing.
If you're a veteran ice fisherman, a guide can still come in handy. Drive to someplace like Catawba Island State Park, wait until the guides have taken their clients out, then offer one a few bucks to ride you, your gear, camp stool, and ice auger out to the fishing grounds. When you've had enough, flag one down for a ride back.
Ice fishing gear is fairly simple. You'll need an ice auger, a couple of rods filled with 8 pound test line, and a selection of jigging Rapalas, Swedish Pimple spoons, and similar offerings. Bait each hook with an emerald shiner, drop the lure to bottom, reel up a turn, and start jigging with an up-and-down, then pause motion. If there are walleye around, you should find some eventually. Especially, if you switch colors on the offerings occasionally.
There are other places where you can fish at no cost and little effort. Many of the marinas, at least those who will give permission, might have perch, crappie, and bluegill around their pilings. Old Bay Bridge, which parallels Ohio 2 across Sandusky Bay, usually provides some perch, though they tend to run small, and White's Landing on the south edge of the Bay turns up some good fish. Wait for good ice, which hopefully won't be long in coming, then decide how you want to fish this big lake.
It's a nice cure for winter doldrums.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org n What will fishing in Lake Erie be like this summer? In a word, "excellent." Ohio walleye anglers can expect to catch fish mostly from the 2003 hatch, with continued contributions from the 1999 and 2001 hatches. Walleye from the 2003 hatch will be 19 to 21 inches long, while fish from the earlier hatches will range from 21 to 28 inches. Walleye from earlier strong hatches will provide "Fish Ohio" trophies of more than 28 inches.
Yellow perch anglers should encounter very good numbers of 8- to 11-inch fish from the 2003 hatch this year, and a strong 2001 hatch will continue to provide dandy 10 to 13 inch jumbos. Smallmouth bass fishing is expected to be good too, with contributions from hatches in the 1990s, 2001, and 2003. Fish should range in size from 14 to 21 inches and weigh 1.5 to 5 pounds. Steelhead, white bass, and other species offer more good news. In short, it's going to be a bumper year.
Boaters are reminded that Ohio law requires that any person age 26 or younger complete an approved boating safety education course or proficiency exam in order to operate a powerboat of 10 horsepower or greater on state waters. The law also applies to anyone supervising an underage person operating a watercraft. The Division of Watercraft, Coast Guard Auxillary, U.S.Power Squadron, and others teach approved courses. See ohiodnr.com for a listing.