Put-In-Bay, Ohio – With this December’s unseasonably cold
temperatures, ice has begun forming on western Lake Erie
In fact, on Dec. 13, one day after the Miller Ferry quit
running, high winds from the Northwest, combined with cold
temperatures and snow, pushed muddy slush into South Bass Island’s
west-facing coves and clogged the channels.
As the winds calmed down, and with the jet stream continuing to
bring cold air down through the middle of the country as far south
as Florida, this shove ice is getting thicker each day and new
sheet ice is forming in between. Some islanders expected to be
fishing before the end of the year, which is unusual, and not
appreciated by everyone. Local legend says early ice often means a
short season or poor fishing.
Even though there was what seemed like a long, cold winter last
year, it turned out to be a challenging season for ice fishermen
who had to fight deep snow drifts, standing water and interrupted
air boat and plane service as numerous storms passed through during
prime weekends and peak fishing weeks.
Local fishermen and guides got started in early January, but it
wasn’t a continuous run. It ended for most by the end of February
with a few fishing through the first weekend in March. A couple got
wet on March 7, as their ATVs had tires break through the
deteriorating ice, and in one case, go through to the bottom.
Increased air boat traffic also resulted in several ATV and
snowmobile operators breaking through the ice throughout last
winter by following trails formed by the airboats, mistaking them
for ATV or snowmobile ice roads. They would re-break through ice
damaged by the heavier air boats going over new or thin ice. If the
air boats will continue to fish the outskirts of the popular
fishing areas accessible to vehicle traffic, tragedy can be averted
The fish often cooperated when people could get around on the
ice, with walleyes, still led by the 2003 year-class averaging 5-6
pounds, with both smaller 2007 year-class and older, larger fish
mixed in the bag. Many fish over 12 pounds were reported, with a
couple approaching 14 pounds.
White bass were plentiful and running large, most often 15-16
inches. They fooled many fishermen, until they saw them, into
thinking that they had a nicer walleye hooked. Smelt were also
abundant, often seen swimming just under the ice and sometimes
managing to get hooked on the large walleye lures.
On Put-in-Bay, there is a long history of ice fishing. Several
guides are available to take out novice anglers who wish to try ice
fishing, but do not have any of the necessary equipment or
experience to do it on their own.
John Hageman runs an overnight package, Primetime Ice Charters,
that has anglers coming over to South Bass Island around noon via
an air boat (Hardwater Charters- 419/285-3106/$60 round trip) or
airplane (Griffing Flying Service- 419/734-5400/$100 round trip)
fishing the afternoon of arrival, staying overnight, and fishing
the next morning until noon before departing for $150. Clients are
lodged in one of the island’s several bed and breakfast homes,
which serve breakfast and in some cases, provide a sack lunch for
the morning on the ice.
Dinner is available at Tipper’s Restaurant and the Skyway Lounge
all winter and taxi service available to get you around the island,
if you prefer to ride instead of walking the ½ mile or less to
dinner and back.
Other island guides include Bud Gehring, ( 419/261-0165),
Put-in-Bay Ice Guides (614/312-7649) and Lake Erie Ice Guides
(419/341-3642), which bought Pat Chrysler’s business last year. A
day on the ice will average $75, with custom packages available to
extend your stay.
Do it yourselfers, while fewer in number, also enjoy success by
using the airboat or airplane to get to the Island, Put-in-Bay taxi
service (419/285-6161) to get to an ice ramp, and a hike on the ice
to a promising spot away from the crowds or guide’s camps.
Bring your own minnows and buy your license ahead of time, as
there are no places on the island to purchase these items. Lures
and other tackle are available at the local gas station, Erie
Islands Petroleum, which also serves soup and sandwiches and has