SANDUSKY, OH -- Ice cover on western Lake Erie is bringing out hardy anglers to experience the unique winter fishing opportunity, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife.
One Lake Erie ice angler pulled up a 5 1/2-foot lake sturgeon while fishing off Catawba Island near Port Clinton last Sunday. The angler, Andrew Krueger, of Brunswick, Ohio, estimated the endangered fish to weigh at least 40 pounds. It took him about 45 minutes to land the sturgeon using an ice rod on 12-pound test line with an ice jig and minnows.
"It is unusual that he hooked a sturgeon in the first place, and even more extraordinary that he could land it through the ice because of its enormous power and size," said David Davies, fisheries biologist with the ODNR Division of Wildlife. "Sturgeon are cold-water adapted and actively feed all winter. If any other anglers catch one of these endangered fish, they should measure the fish, take a photograph if possible, and release it back into the water immediately."
Sturgeon catches or observations of sturgeon should be reported to the Division of Wildlife at (419) 625-8062.
Ice shanties and "bucket fishermen" dot Lake Erie's ice-covered landscape at several areas and ice guides are now hosting parties of eager anglers. However, many areas of open water exist, especially in commercial channels and in areas of heavy current. The Division of Wildlife reminds anglers that no ice is ever 100 percent safe.
"Ice formation got an early start with some constant frigid temperatures in December and this may be the best ice fishing season in the past 10 years," said Doug Johnson, Division of Wildlife fisheries biologist and area angler. "Ice fishing activity in recent years has been short-lived, but this year may be a bonus."
Anglers are in pursuit of Lake Erie's most popular sport fish -- walleye and yellow perch. Anglers use ice jigs or jigging spoons tipped with live minnows for walleyes and perch spreaders baited with minnows for yellow perch. These can be still fished or gently jigged just above the bottom.
"Successful anglers are landing walleyes in a variety of sizes ranging from 13 to 28 inches. A few limit catches are being reported as well," Johnson said. "Yellow perch anglers are reeling in nice-size perch in the 7- to 11-inch range."
From the mainland, anglers are fishing off the tip of Catawba Island and Catawba State Park near Port Clinton, and Crane Creek State Park north of Oak Harbor. Most fishing activity on Sandusky Bay is occurring at Whites Landing (located on Sandusky Bay southwest of Sandusky), at the Old Bay Bridge Fishing Access at State Routes 2 and 269, and near downtown Sandusky off the city ramp. At South Bass Island, ice anglers are fishing between the west side of the island and Green Island.
Lake Erie fishing regulations require a current 2000/01 fishing license, valid through February 28. Anglers may use holes no larger than 12 inches in width. They may not use more than six tip-ups and two rods per person. Anglers using ice shanties and tip-up rods must display the name and address of the owner or user. Bag limits remain in effect; 10 walleyes per angler per day, and 30 yellow perch per angler per day.
Anglers should check for safe ice conditions before venturing out. Many factors affect the quality and thickness of ice including sun, warm air, snow cover, winds, currents under the ice, and commercial vessel traffic.
Anglers should never jump cracks in the ice. During many past ice fishing seasons, the United States Coast Guard and local rescue teams have had to retrieve a number of anglers from ice floes. A working crack may be only a few inches wide but quickly spread because of currents and wind, leaving anglers stranded.
Anyone venturing out on the ice should be prepared for the possibility of cold water immersion. Anglers should wear a life jacket and have available an extra change of clothes in case of a fall through the ice. Anglers should never go on the ice alone, and should inform someone of the location they will be fishing and estimated time of return. It is also advisable to carry a cell phone in a waterproof bag.
Novice and first-time ice fishermen may want to consider using the services of a licensed ice fishing guide. A list of licensed guides can be obtained by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE. Ice guide and lodging information can be obtained from the Sandusky/Erie County Visitors Bureau at 1-800-255-3743; and the Ottawa County Visitors Bureau at 1-800-441-1271.
Anglers can get a recorded ice fishing report by calling 1-888-HOOK FISH. The report includes areas of current ice fishing activity but not ice conditions. Remember, no ice is ever 100 percent safe.