MOUNT VERNON — With the recent cold streak, ice has begun to form on area lakes, ponds and rivers. With the ice formation and continued cold temperatures, now is the perfect time to go ice fishing. Most area waters have thick enough ice to accommodate this winter activity.
“This weekend will be a great weekend for ice fishing; it is supposed to be warming up a little bit,” said Knox County Wildlife Officer Mike Miller. “They started ice fishing at Knox Lake last week. There is about six to eight inches on the lake. Ice fishing is a fun activity and can be a very safe, enjoyable way to catch some fish in the wintertime. If you have cabin fever, this is a way to get out, have a good time and catch a bunch of fish.”
While it might take a little different strategy than summertime fishing, ice fishing can be enjoyable nonetheless. It can be tasty too, as several different types of fish will be biting.
“For the most part, you are going to catch either bluegills, largemouth bass or channel catfish,” said Miller. “I’ve caught all of those through the ice. Redears, yellow perch may bite if they are available. If you’re fishing in a river system, you potentially catch smallmouth bass, saugeye or hybrid striped bass. ... There are also some northern pike in the Mohican River. You could catch some of those toward the end of February through March. As soon as the ice starts to break off, northern pike start to make their migration runs. Overall, though, river systems are not the best place to ice fish, though, because of the conditions.”
The key to good fishing is knowing where to go. This time of year, fish find the deepest pools of water they can, and knowing where those are is half the battle.
“Knox Lake has a pretty good number of ice fishermen, especially on the weekends,” Miller said. “It is a good place to go. They are catching bluegills, largemouth bass and channel catfish. The best place is the upper end of the lake by the creek channel. Apple Valley is a good ice fishing location if there is good, safe ice. Farm ponds are another good place. A lot of area landowners, if you ask, will give you permission to fish. Kokosing Lake is another good place to go.
“The next best place, if you want to catch some nice fish, is Buckeye Lake. It is a shallow lake and it freezes really quickly. A lot of saugeye are caught through the ice down there this time of year. Alum Creek and Hoover reservoirs, depending on the ice conditions, are another couple of places you can do some fishing.”
If you have some time on your hands and are adventurous, Miller said a great place to go is Lake Erie. The ice can get to as thick as 16 inches during the winter.
“Lake Erie, if they get good ice, is fabulous for perch and walleye,” said Miller. “Up around the islands is a good spot for that. The best thing to do is to go to www.wildohio.com and check the ice fishing conditions. You could also call area bait shops up there. They can give you tips of when and where they are catching fish.”
To get started, it takes a few simple tools and a little ambition.
“You just need some simple tools,” Miller said. “You need an ice auger to get through the ice. You can use a spud bar, although it requires more work. You also need something to scoop the ice out of the hole and some really basic fishing tackle. You can get ice fishing rods for $5 or $6, and then get a sponge sinker for the line and a simple ice fishing jig. They come in various colors. Then of course, you will want some wax worms. I would also recommend something to sit on and carry every thing you need.”
The biggest thing to remember when you’re ice fishing is safety. Ice is much like glass; it will crack under pressure. And like glass, the clearer the ice is, the stronger it will be.
“Something to keep in mind is make sure it is good, safe ice,” said Miller. “Farm ponds and small lakes are best as far as the water being stable. When the water is calm, it is going to freeze and give you better ice. A minimum of four inches of good, clear ice is the best ice to have. Things that you want to stay way from are areas of moving current, maybe around docks, stump fields and streams. All of those types of things are going to limit the generation of ice.”
Some simple planning can also help. Miller recommends you go fishing with a friend in case something should happen, and as with all hunting and fishing, let someone know where you are going to be.
When you are searching for safe ice, drill a test hole about a foot offshore to see how thick the ice is. If it is at least four inches, proceed with caution. Miller recommends you slide on your feet across the ice so you will better distribute your body weight. Do not stomp on the ice to determine its thickness. Other tips are to walk in single file lines and take the same path back because that is already safe ice.
Another key is to be prepared for anything. Should the ice break, a few simple accessories could help save your life.
“You should already have some with you,” Miller said. “You will have your auger or spud bar. Some simple things you can bring from home are screwdrivers connected with a string. If you put those are your neck when you are walking and then you fall in, you can help dig your way out.
“Remember to stay calm and cool. The best thing to do is keep your sense and use the safety equipment you have with you. Kick your feet just like you were swimming while you pull yourself up onto the ice with the screwdrivers. Then, since you know you’ve got safe ice where you came from, roll back toward the shore line. Rolling distributes your body weight to keep you from falling back through.”
Spectators and passers-by should also keep a few things in mind if they are trying to help someone who has fallen through. Safety-first thinking will keep the situation from getting out of hand.
“If you are trying to help somebody that has fallen in, the first thing to do is call 911,” said Miller. “Don’t go out on the ice yourself. Think and do some simple things. One of the easiest things that you might have with you in your vehicle are jumper cables. You can take those out and use them as a lifeline. Also, if you have some rope, you could use that. Tree branches or poles can also be used to help reach the person in the water.”
Even with the small warm-up on Thursday and today, area waters should remain cold enough for strong ice to continue.
“With the ice conditions we have, say Knox Lake or most of the farm ponds I’ve checked out, the warmer weather just makes for more comfortable ice fishing,” Miller said. “The sun is out and it’s warmer, and the wind is not as bad. If the temperature gets into the 40s, it is not going to matter. If you get three or four days like that in a row and your throw some rain in there, that’s when you need to make sure you check the ice.
“You need to make sure you check the ice conditions each time you go out and continually while you are fishing. Don’t check it once and forget about it. If you are moving from spot to spot, you have to keep all of that into consideration.”
NOTE: Anyone interested in learning how to safely ice fish should seek out a licensed ice-fishing guide. A list of certified guides is available at www.ohiodnr.com or by calling the ODNR Division of Wildlife, Sandusky office at (419) 625-8062.