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Ice fishing options taking shape on the hard water

01/16/2015, 12:42am EST
Ice fishing options taking shape

Cold temperatures have made most lakes safe for ice fishing. The Blade

PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio — The difference between good ice and bad ice can be no less than a difference between life and death kind of deal.

Rob LaPlante knows that, and an incident a quarter of a century ago serves as a reminder that there is no priority other than safety when it comes to ice fishing.

“I went through the ice about 25 years ago, and I’m not going through again,” LaPlante said Wednesday as he readied five shanties to be moved out on the ice plateau that sits between the west shore of South Bass Island and Green and Rattlesnake islands. LaPlante said there was about 10 inches of ice in the area.

“Ice fishing is fine if you are constantly checking the conditions, you stay in the right places, and you don’t wander. The weather is a big variable, and there’s no guarantees. Safety always comes before the fish,” he said.

The former wrestler at Cardinal Stritch has been guiding around the Lake Erie islands since he was in high school, and that long relationship with Erie winters has ingrained in him the respect and restraint needed to deal with the ice fishing phenomenon.

“People are always calling and anxious to get out on the ice, but living here is the best lesson you can have in how to approach this,” LaPlante said. “It has taught me how essential safety is, and I would never take anyone out there unless it’s safe. That’s not something you ever negotiate on.”

Although last winter produced one of the best overall ice fishing seasons in a long time, LaPlante said he was concerned because “people were running all over the place.”

The ice conditions remain a wildly variable part of this puzzle, and although roughly 80 percent of Lake Erie now has some ice, much of it is far from safe at this point.

“Last year we had a pretty long season, but two years ago, only the island people fished, and it was an off-and-on thing,” said LaPlante, who expects to start taking clients out on the ice this weekend. “I like the area we fish, because the ice gets locked in, and it’s not moving. At a lot of other places on the lake, it can really move on you.”

Veteran ice guide Bud Gehring flew over the lake for an aerial view of the ice cover on Tuesday, and he began moving shanties out on the ice close to the islands on Wednesday.

Gehring said he expected to have anglers fishing from them nearly right away. Ice fishermen reach South Bass Island by air boat taxi or a short flight from Port Clinton.

“There was ice as far as you could see from the west shore of South Bass, and the area we plan to fish has a good six to eight-inch base of ice, and we’ll be making more ice tonight for sure,” he said.

Gehring, who has been ice guiding for 25 years, said the very early reports from the ice around the islands indicate things have been slow, but he expects the fishing to improve through the weekend. Gehring’s clients will be fishing in 34 feet of water.

Anglers are starting to venture out on Lake Erie from the Camp Perry and Catawba State Park areas, but they are wisely leaving the vehicles behind and walking, dragging sleds full of gear and treading lightly as the ice gains strength.

They should remain extremely cautious about where they track since the ice off the shore of the mainland tends to be much more fickle than that inside the perimeter of the islands, in large part because of the impact of wind and currents. There is also ice fishing taking place at East Harbor and in the more protected sections of Sandusky Bay.

On the Michigan inland waters, Tom Knutson of Knutson’s Sporting Goods in Brooklyn said most of the lakes in the Irish Hills area are fishable, and some have hosted ice anglers during the past two weeks.

“We’re there. I think we’re OK on about 90 percent of the lakes up here,” Knutson said. “You never say it’s great, because there’s always the exception, but I think we’re in pretty good shape for the moment.”

Knutson said the Irish Hills lakes had about three or four inches of good ice before the recent snow, which insulates the ice and actually hampers the strengthening of the ice. He said many of the lakes have about five inches of ice, some eight inches.

Mike Wilkerson, the fish management supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s office in Findlay, said ice fishing has been taking place on Lake La Su An, the only lake in the wildlife area of the same name that is open to winter fishing. The lake is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday only, with a 25-fish limit on blue gills, and only five of those fish can be more than eight inches long.

Surveys have indicated that the lake holds too many blue gills right now, so biologists want to see some harvested in order to keep the growth rates up. Ice fishing on La Su An will continue through Feb. 16.

Wilkerson said ice fishing for yellow perch on Findlay’s reservoir No. 2 is “usually gangbusters” once the fish are located. He said ice anglers usually concentrate their efforts on the structure around the boat ramp area, and in the conservation pool in the northeast section of the reservoir.

Other area waters worth a try once the ice augers and shanties come out include Bresler, Ferguson, and Metzger reservoirs in Allen County, Lake LeComte outside Fostoria, and Resthaven pond No. 8 near Castalia.

ICE SAFETY: Never fish alone on the ice, always leave behind a detailed plan on where you expect to fish and your estimated return time, always wear a flotation device, put simple slip-on traction devices on your boots, carry your wallet and cell phone in a sealed plastic bag, carry a set of safety spikes over your shoulders in case you need to pull yourself out after breaking through the ice, and always stay away from areas where vegetation, springs, and currents can corrupt the ice from below.

ICE GUIDES: Contact ice fishing guide Rob LaPlante at 419-341- 8859. Contact ice fishing guide Bud Gehring at 419-261-0165.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: or 419-724-6068.

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