Published February 2005

Ice fishing has been a tough proposition on Lake Erie this winter.  Ice was slow in coming, though there were 8 to 10 inches finally last weekend, and water under the ice was muddy, thanks to floods that swelled tributaries and pumped millions of gallons of silt filled water into the lake.  But it’s reasonably clear now, and Erie ice guides have started taking out clients, while other ice fishermen are boring holes in their own favorite spots.  If you’re looking for some fresh fish, the question now is where to go?

The Bass Islands have been a traditional winter hotspot for many years with most anglers flying over, hiring a guide, and being transported to shanties off Rattlesnake Island.  But that’s getting to be an expensive business.  Guides charge about $100 a day, which isn’t bad for the service they provide, but Griffing and Dairy Air have gradually raised their rates over the past few years to $70 and $72 respectively for a round trip flight.  A lot of money in total for a day of fishing that might produce anything from a limit catch to goose eggs.

So, it’s worth pointing out that there are mainland guides too, that don’t require a plane ride, who are fishing in areas from Kelleys Island to Camp Perry.  Two of those guides are Eric Loeckel and Dave Matta.  (I’ve yet to meet or fish with either, but I talked to Eric by phone last week, and he was optimistic about the fishing.

“I’m taking people to an area seven miles offshore near Kelleys Island.” he said, “Picking them up at Mazurick near Marblehead for the trip out, and we’ve been catching fish.  We’re getting a lot of throwbacks right now, fish of less than 15 inches, but some decent keepers too.  They’re hitting the usual things, Swedish Pimples, jigging Rapalas, etc. in about 30 feet of water.”  There are other ice guides, and you can find information on these by calling Wildlife District Two at (419) 424-5000.

Anglers who don’t want to pay at all for their pleasure still have some choices for a fair catch.  According to recent reports Battery Park in downtown Sandusky has been producing some decent action on both yellow perch and crappie.  You’ll need to do some prospecting here to find fish, but some of the crappie particularly are running to good sizes.

Another traditional winter spot is Old Bay Bridge which parallels Route 2 where it crosses Sandusky Bay.  To reach it, you’ll cross the Bay on Route 2, then take the first exit, swing back and drive onto the bridge.  There’s plenty of parking and best fishing is near the cut.  If the Bridge has a problem, it’s that most of the perch are going to be small, but when I was there last week anglers were culling some keepers and finding them just a short walk from the parking lot.

A final choice for Erie fishing is working the marinas.  You’ll need permission, and frankly it’s a hit or miss proposition.  I try them every winter and have had some excellent days using minnows on one rod and waxworms on another to take perch, crappie, and bluegill.  But I’ve had some losers too, including last week when I worked a favorite marina and didn’t get a single bite.

The fish come and go in most marinas, and if you find one with a good population, you’ll still need to keep a few points in mind.  One is that when you bore a hole in the average 4-5 feet of marina water every fish below is going to flee, and it’ll take some time before they return.  Some anglers counter this by boring four or five holes near marina pilings here and there, then walk from one to another.  A second top tactic is to fish with three or four friends scattered around the marina, and concentrate near whoever is finding some.

Here’s a final thought.  It’s been fairly warm this past week and ice might be thin in some places.  Always fish with friends, and always check the ice before you walk more than a few feet.  Winter swims are no fun.

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