Experience the Thrill of Lake Erie Ice Fishing!
When the cold weather arrives, many anglers might think it’s time to stow away their fishing gear. But for Lake Erie enthusiasts, it’s a different story. Lake Erie ice fishing offers a unique and exciting way to enjoy the lake’s pristine waters and world-class fishing action, even during the frigid winter months.
So, what’s on the winter menu on Lake Erie? It’s a lineup of the crème de la crème fish species, including the superstar Walleye, the beloved Yellow Perch, and the tasty Crappie. The relatively shallow waters of Lake Erie typically freeze over during winter, creating a frozen playground for ice anglers. If you’re not one to let the cold slow you down, you simply can’t afford to miss this Great Lake adventure.
Before you embark on your Lake Erie ice fishing expedition, let’s delve into everything you need to know, from the top catches to the best spots and necessary licenses.
Top Ice Fishing Catches on Lake Erie
When winter arrives, many Lake Erie enthusiasts eagerly switch to ice fishing mode. The ice fishing season typically spans from mid-December to March, depending on the weather and ice thickness. During this time, you’ll have the chance to target three of Lake Erie’s most sought-after catches: Walleye, Yellow Perch, and Crappie.
Now, let’s take a closer look at these top three Lake Erie ice fishing catches:
Walleye – King of All Seasons
If you can’t get enough of Walleye even during the winter months, you’re not alone. Pursuing this iconic fish allows you to continue your favorite hobby even in cold conditions, with a few adjustments to your techniques.
Lake Erie’s ice fishing season primarily revolves around Walleye. As soon as the lake freezes over, anglers rush to drill their holes and search for these prized catches. To reach the Walleye hotspots, you’ll typically need to use airboats or snowmobiles, so going ice fishing with a knowledgeable guide is often the best approach. They’ll provide you with all the necessary equipment, including bait, hooks, lines, and a fish finder to locate the fish. Always pay close attention to the thickness of the ice to ensure your safety.
Ice fishing for Walleye can vary depending on the time of day and the month. Early, mid, and late winter fishing experiences differ. For example, in mid-winter, you can target Walleye in up to 40 feet of water around noon, but they tend to move into shallower waters later in the evening.
Unlike the warmer months when Walleye are voracious eaters, during the winter, they enter a stage of maintenance feeding, consuming just enough to survive until they head to their spring spawning areas. This means that getting them to bite during winter becomes a more significant challenge for anglers. Check out our latest Lake Erie Fishing Report to see how the fishing is now.
Yellow Perch – The People’s Fish
While Walleye reign supreme in Lake Erie year-round, Yellow Perch fishing during the winter season is also incredibly rewarding. Even in the colder months, you can find large schools of Yellow Perch, making it possible to enjoy a successful ice fishing trip and a tasty dinner.
Yellow Perch typically stay in shallower waters when the first ice forms on Lake Erie. They prefer areas with healthy vegetation, often feeding on minnows and other small prey. Besides minnows, Perch also feast on smaller baitfish, insects, and freshwater shrimp. As winter progresses, large schools of Perch migrate to deeper waters and eventually head toward their spawning grounds as the ice fishing season nears its end.
It’s a well-known fact that Perch move in schools, so mobility is key to success. Take advantage of feeding frenzies, as when one Perch bites, others in the school usually follow suit. For those planning catch-and-release ice fishing trips, it’s crucial to pack the right equipment to ensure the Perch aren’t exposed to the cold for too long before being released back into the water.
Crappie – In The Hearts of Millions
For many Lake Erie ice fishermen, the mere thought of pulling a Crappie through the ice is enough to get them excited. While these fish may not be the largest trophies around, ice fishing for Crappie is a skill any angler would love to master.
During the early winter season, Crappies are often found near thick weed beds in waters of up to 15 feet deep. In mid-winter, they migrate to slightly deeper areas, only to return to shallower waters towards the end of the season. The challenge with Crappie fishing is keeping up with their constant movements under the ice throughout the winter season.
Ice fishing for Crappie shares some similarities with the techniques used for Yellow Perch. It involves drilling multiple holes and staying mobile to locate the fish. Local anglers often use minnows along with bait that mimics plankton and various lures to entice Crappie.
A unique aspect of ice fishing for Crappie is that they tend to be more active at night. To make the most of the peak biting times, consider heading out onto the ice at dawn or dusk.
Fishing Season and Conditions
Lake Erie’s ice fishing season typically begins in mid-December and extends through March, with its peak often occurring in January. During this time, you’ll witness numerous anglers drilling holes and seeking their next catch, with dozens of ice shacks dotting the frozen lake.
When planning your Lake Erie ice fishing adventure, safety should be your top priority. Here are some crucial safety considerations:
- Check the Ice Thickness: Always check the thickness of the ice before venturing out. The ODNR Division of Wildlife website can provide recommendations on safe ice thickness.
- Monitor the Weather: Given the unpredictable nature of weather, be sure to check it multiple times both during trip planning and just before heading out.
- Don’t Go Alone: Whenever possible, bring along friends, family, or fellow anglers. Ice fishing often involves carrying gear, and having extra hands can be invaluable on the ice or in snowy conditions.
- Wear a Life Jacket: Wearing a life jacket is a must, as no one wants to spend too much time in cold water in case of an emergency. You can even wear a life jacket underneath your winter coat for added safety.
- Hire a Local Guide: Experienced local guides are invaluable for a safe and successful ice fishing trip. They’re familiar with the lake’s conditions, know the best fishing spots under the ice, and often provide transportation and all necessary ice fishing gear.
Top Ice Fishing Techniques on Lake Erie
Once you’ve secured the guidance of a local expert and are ready to embark on your Lake Erie ice fishing adventure, you might wonder about transportation, gear, and techniques for catching fish under the ice.
For transportation, local anglers typically rely on snowmobiles and airboats. Both options are safe, but airboats can be more challenging to navigate on windy days, while snowmobiles offer stability but have limited space.
Lake Erie’s Walleye can be elusive, so having good navigational electronics and a fish finder can greatly assist in locating fish. If you’re unsure about how to target your chosen species, hiring a local guide is a wise choice. They typically come equipped with all the necessary gear and may even have underwater cameras to give you a glimpse of what’s happening beneath the ice.
When it comes to gear, spinning rods and reels are the go-to choices for Lake Erie ice fishing, along with jigging spoons and lures. For targeting Walleye under the ice, consider using jigging minnows and fishing with rattle baits for added attraction.
Lake Erie Top Ice Fishing Spots
Ice fishing is immensely popular on Lake Erie, and you’ll find knowledgeable guides in nearly all the states that border the lake. Whether you prefer a day trip or an entire weekend by the lake, a wide range of options awaits you. The only decision left to make is where to start your adventure.
Ohio offers a wealth of ice fishing opportunities on Lake Erie. Anglers here have the luxury of targeting Walleye, Yellow Perch, and Crappie in a single day, although you may need to venture up to 10 miles offshore on occasion.
Port Clinton is an excellent starting point for your ice fishing trip. You can also take an air taxi from the city to reach Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island. Some anglers opt for the launch ramps at Catawba Island State Park, while others prefer Sandusky Bay, The Old Bay Bridge near Geneva-on-the-Lake, or Mouse Island off Marblehead.
New York, US
Ice fishing on Lake Erie’s New York waters depends heavily on ice thickness. Due to the currents in the Niagara River, conditions can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Always check weather conditions before heading out and exercise extreme caution.
Sturgeon Point near Buffalo offers fantastic Perch fishing opportunities, and you might even encounter Walleye. To reach productive fishing grounds here, you’ll typically need to hire a snowmobile.
The Pennsylvania portion of Lake Erie also provides excellent ice fishing opportunities. Presque Isle Bay is arguably the hottest spot, particularly in late December or early January. The bay offers sheltered waters with various launching points, including Presque Isle Marina, among others.
By January, locals and visitors set up ice-fishing huts at Misery Bay, offering a convenient way to enjoy ice fishing on Lake Erie without traveling too far offshore.
Lake Erie is the southernmost body of water in Ontario, which means milder temperatures but unpredictable ice fishing conditions. If the winter season is too mild, fishing safely may not be possible. However, when conditions are favorable, ice fishing on the Ontario side of the lake is outstanding.
The inner bay of Long Point is a prime location for solid Yellow Perch ice fishing action. Anglers set up heated huts and move around using snowmobile-drawn sleighs to locate schools of Yellow Perch. St. Williams is another good spot to establish your heated shelter.
Getting a Fishing License
Lake Erie’s waters are shared by the Canadian province of Ontario and the US states of Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and Ohio. Ice fishing on the lake may require additional or separate fishing licenses depending on your location. For instance:
- In Pennsylvania, you can obtain a stand-alone Lake Erie fishing permit.
- In Ohio, visitors must carry a Lake Erie fishing permit specifically for the period from January 1 to April 30.
Local ice fishing charters typically don’t provide fishing licenses, but your guide can help you understand which documents you need. Additionally, there are regulations governing catches from Lake Erie. For example, minimum size limits for Bass and Yellow Perch can vary depending on the season, whereas Crappies have consistent regulations. It’s essential to be aware of these rules.
If you’re a Canadian angler planning to fish on the Canadian side of Lake Erie, you’ll need to obtain an Ontario fishing license and an Outdoors Card. US citizens also require a Remote Area Border Crossing Permit. Be sure to check the specific requirements for residents and non-residents, and consult local authorities for the latest licensing information.
It’s Ice Fishing O’Clock on Lake Erie!
Fishing on Lake Erie is exceptional year-round, and now that you’ve discovered the joys of ice fishing here, you can understand why so many winter enthusiasts flock to this destination. If you decide to explore what’s lurking beneath the ice, you’ll find numerous guides on both sides of the lake ready to put you on plenty of fish.
If you plan to bring along family or friends, some of whom may not be avid ice fishermen, rest assured that there are various indoor and outdoor activities to keep them entertained. While you might not be able to join in, you’ll undoubtedly know what’s on the dinner menu!