Ice fishing often a fleeting prospect in the Buckeye State
|Lake Erie perch takes the bait.
|A nice catch of Lake Erie perch.
With Ohio’s frequently warm winters, an ice fishing season can come and go as quickly as a trophy fish at the end of your line. Needing consecutive days of freezing weather, it’s hard to say when (or if) safe ice fishing conditions will surface. Savvy anglers know that preparation is the key to grabbing their chance to enjoy this fleeting fishing opportunity or else to be left, quite literally, out in the cold.
“If it is going to get cold enough to create fishable ice, January and February are the months to bet on,” according to Ray Petering a state fisheries biologist and avid ice angler.
For those just getting started in this exciting winter sport, it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on fancy gear, says Petering, who admits to “recrafting” broken rods for use during ice fishing season. He explains that angling through a hole in the ice is a lot easier with a shortened pole. Shorter rods are more maneuverable, allowing anglers to get closer to the hole while providing them a better feel for what’s at the end of their line.
Because fish don’t strike as aggressively in the winter, you’ll want to use lighter tackle 10 pound test or less and smaller baits. You can increase your odds by tipping artificial lures with live bait. Sluggish fish are much more likely to hit on a minnow-tipped jig as opposed to one with a plastic worm.
Tip-ups are another common method of ice fishing and come in a wide variety of designs. Essentially, they involve a spool of line hanging in the water with bait attached. Most store bought versions feature a signaling device, such as a flag, that pops up when a fish takes the bait. In Ohio, anglers can have up to six tip-ups going at one time.
What’s biting down below? Petering says you can catch the same species when ice fishing as you hooked during the summer months, including crappie, bluegill, bass and catfish, as well as perch, walleye and saugeye.
In fact, some of the most sought after ice fish are saugeyes (a cross between the sauger and a walleye), because they are so active in the winter. Two of the best places for saugeye and ice fishing in general are Buckeye Lake in Fairfield and Licking counties, and Indian Lake in Logan County, which generally freeze quickly due to their shallowness. At these lakes, consider using a jig or spoon tipped with minnows.
Drop your line through an ice hole on a farm pond and you’ll likely be pulling up some tasty panfish, such as bluegill and crappie. For bait, Petering suggests using a tiny ice jig or fly and tipping it with wax worms.
Lake Erie ice fishing is definitely a different “kettle of fish.” For a variety of reasons including safety many anglers hire a guide who sets them up in the protective shelter of a shanty and helps them locate the fish. The area between Green and Rattlesnake islands, just west of South Bass Island, usually offers some of the safest ice on the lake.
For those targeting walleye, use minnows on jigging spoons, blade baits and jigging Rapalas. Yellow perch can be caught with a spreader or crappie rig tipped with shiners. Some anglers include a bobber as a strike indicator.
|Remember to dress warmly for a day on the ice.
|Hand operated augers are popular on inland lakes and ponds.
Of course, before you can fish you have to have safe ice. While thickness is one consideration, the kind of ice is another. Clear ice is the strongest. Cloudy ice, where air bubbles and snow are mixed in, has thawed and refrozen and is not as good because there can be areas of weakness. Be aware of areas with moving water, which creates weak or thin ice. Safe ice starts at five to six inches. Use your auger or chip a hole in the ice with a spud bar or axe to check the ice thickness.
If you go ice fishing, follow the Boy Scout motto and “be prepared.” When walking around on the ice, wear a lifejacket and dress appropriately to prevent hypothermia. You’ll also want to bring along an extra change of clothes just in case of an emergency.
Other things to remember before going ice fishing:
- Have a valid Ohio fishing license
- Know catch limits for the species you are fishing
- Anglers can have two hand-held rods and six tip-ups at one time
- Every tip-up must display the angler’s name and address
- Ice holes can be no larger than 12-inches in diameter
Once the freeze is on, the best way to find out what’s biting is a stop at the local bait shop. For Lake Erie ice fishing reports, visit ohiodnr.com.
Some anglers swear that fish caught through the ice taste better than at any other time of the year. Let’s just hope that this year “Old Man Winter” gives Buckeye State anglers the chance to test that theory!