Lake Erie ice shaping into prime condition at islands

Put-In-Bay, Ohio — It looks like the Farmer’s Almanac got it right again with its prediction of a cold winter for northern Ohio. After a milder than usual December, January’s temperatures in Toledo are being reported by the TV weathercasters as colder than last year, but without the snow. There was only a trace of snow for the entire month of December, officially at Toledo’s Express Airport.

The cold temperatures have led to ice formation on Lake Erie, with over 80 percent coverage already in place as announced by the Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab. Yet, our taxpayer money continues to subsidize the shipping industry due to a 1936 executive order to keep navigation lanes open.

U.S. Coast Guard ice-breakers cost us millions of dollars annually in the Great Lakes and occasionally add risk to our ice safety. The cargo, largely taconite pellets, cement, salt, coal, grain, and limestone, is not going to spoil by having to wait until spring. They all could be moved by rail if necessary. 

Shanties have already been set up off the islands and west of Catawba by some of the ice guides and residents. Mainland ice traffic is mostly headed out from Catawba Island State Park and going west.

Open water and strong winds on early January weekends kept traffic away from the South Passage from Mouse Island to South Bass and Green islands.

According to ice guide Mike Patterson, the ice west of Catawba that he has seen is mostly around eight inches thick, but is about six inches thick closer to Camp Perry. He adds that the ice between Mouse Island and Green Island is newer and “iffy.”

Also, a wide crack ran from Davis Besse Nuclear Power Plant to Monroe, Mich., within sight of the Camp Perry and Crane Creek ice launches as of the weekend of Jan. 17-18. Two brothers were rescued by the Monroe County (Michigan) Sheriff’s Office using its helicopter when the crack widened a mile off of the shoreline near Brest Bay on Sunday, Jan. 18.

Cloudy water has given way to clearer conditions, with visibility up to 15 feet in some locations now that the waves are suppressed from the ice cover. The algae and sediments have mostly settled out down to the bottom of the water column.

Overall, success has been mixed, with catches ranging from a few to limits taken by some. Sizes have ranged from sub-legal walleyes under 15 inches to some trophies over 13 pounds reported.

Fishing remained slow for walleyes as of Sunday morning, Jan. 18 off South Bass Island’s West Shore, with visibility running only about three feet. A mixed bag of small to keeper-size yellow perch were dominating the early catches there, according to one resident who was interviewed. It is similar to the hordes of them that were caught in the same area last fall. 

It looks like a bright future for “perch-jerkers,” with lots of fish ready to grow into “keepers” this summer for a great fall fishery. The 2014 perch hatch was above average, too, which will provide many nuisance perch for a couple of years before they too grow into prime eaters. 

There is still room for the ice conditions to improve everywhere, but those who carefully read the conditions without assuming the ice is safe will avoid a dunking. A few reported seeing where the ice went from a solid 10 inches to being able to be penetrated with one hit of the spud bar.  

Accuweather and the local TV stations predicted that the weather would be milder during the third week of January, but colder again during the following two weeks.Don’t assume that you can go wherever you fished last winter when we had over 20 inches of ice. At least not for a few weeks.

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