Lake Erie 2015 ice fishing still going strong

Port Clinton, Ohio — When the ice fishing first got going on Lake Erie, Catawba Island State Park and Camp Perry were about the only access sites to get onto the lake. A wide crack persisted off the Crane Creek beach and west. Ice near Mouse Island and over to Green Island was late to thicken up enough to use, too. 

At Catawba Island State Park, there have been multiple reports of dented vehicles, likely caused by the tightly packed parking lot that left little room for trailers to clear the tight turns required when vehicles are parked too closely. 

Unfortunately, there have also been unlocked trailers stolen from vehicle hitches and unattended ATV’s, trailers, and shanties taken from the ice near there.

On Super Bowl Sunday, a heavy snowfall created difficult conditions for ATV travel, but a slight warm-up and light rain compressed the snow and refroze, making traveling much easier.

A marked Christmas tree trail from Catawba to Put-in-Bay, used mostly by snowmobilers, has resulted in several dozen “sleds” filling the parking lots and front yard at Tipper’s Restaurant at Put-in-Bay each weekend. 

Because of several factors, airboats were eventually prohibited from launching at Camp Perry by the camp commander. A huge hole in the ice just off the beach there swallowed a UTV and surprised a few other recreational vehicle owners before people learned to go around it. 

When the ice finally became fishable nearby, Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area, formerly known as Crane Creek State Park, took a lot of the pressure for parking spaces off of Catawba Island State Park and Camp Perry.

As fishing success slowed down at Catawba, the Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area parking lot became so full on Feb. 21 that the police had to turn vehicles away from the driveway at State Route 2. Anglers quitting early couldn’t leave until the owners of the vehicles that had them blocked in returned also.

A single lane went from State Route 2 all the way back to the lake, forcing one to drive in reverse all of the way back to one end whenever there were vehicles going north and south at the same time. 

By Tuesday, Feb. 21, the Division of Wildlife issued special parking rules that prohibited parking along the southbound lane of the road. This was a result of concerns expressed by the local fire department chief about not being able to respond to emergencies.

When one angler who surveyed license plates that day, it appeared to him that ¾ of the vehicles had Michigan plates on them. States other than Ohio that were also well-represented included Indiana and Wisconsin.

Numerous concerned anglers have expressed disgust at the behavior of some of the so-called sportsmen, who were leaving trash on the ice that included food and beverage containers, lure wrappers, and even empty 1-pound propane bottles after their day of fishing.

For the most part, this has been a tougher bite than last year. Finicky fish have been on the move or active for only brief periods of time many days. Keeping on the move and getting away from the crowds has been more important this winter to stay on top of fish.

Many walleyes from the 2014 and 2013 hatches, still under the 15-inch legal minimum size, have been caught, along with a lot of mid-size “eater” fish and some notable trophies.

All types of lures are getting put into action. Some of the favorites of past years, such as crippled herrings, Swedish Pimples, Do-Jiggers, Lit’l Cleo’s, blade baits, and Nils Master Baby Shads are seeing action, joining perennial favorites Swedish Pimples and Jigging Rapalas this winter. Some anglers have resorted to downsizing their lures, tipping their hooks with just shiner heads, hugging and puffing the mud, and using a second “dead stick” to encourage less aggressive fish to hit motionless bait.

Fishing at Put-in-Bay has generally been even tougher, according to Capt. Bud Gehring, with some walleyes seen most days, but with more perch present, including some jumbos, with one measuring over 15 inches long.

However, March’s fishing was fantastic last year, with almost everyone catching limits of walleyes over 5 pounds and it now appears that fish are entering the area. At press time (Feb. 28), Randy Bundy of Cincinnati reported catching limits of perch and several walleyes each day of up to 13 and 29½ inches long, respectively, near Rattlesnake Island. 

A lake sturgeon, estimated to be well over five feet long, was hooked twice in early January by Put-in-Bay resident David Dress. First, it spit out his lure just under the shanty holes after breaking his reel’s handle during its powerful run. Then, it grabbed one of his other minnows on a traditional Dipsey rig, which is a wire spreader with a molded triangular chunk of lead in the center. It quickly broke one of the wire arms off of it, getting away for good for the second time in minutes. 

Kelleys Island ice guide Joel Byer reports 20 inches of ice and an average of three to four walleyes per person each day in 35-50 feet of water, all greater than 5 pounds each. Noteworthy is that 20 percent of the fish he is seeing are 30 inches or greater.

An average of 18 inches of ice is currently present where people are doing the majority of the fishing. Weather forecasts as of press time of very few days above freezing and cold lows until mid-March would support the possibility of ice lasting deep into the month.

A heavy rain, a few days of temperatures in the 50s, and/or strong winds, all common in March, can create moats along the edge of the ice, widen existing cracks, and launch ice sheets adrift, ending it for all but air boats. 

Because 18-20 inches of ice does not disappear in a few days, the island ice often lasts weeks longer, since it is less likely to drift away. But after the sun bakes it long enough, it too dissolves into spring and it becomes time to get the boat ready.

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