Lake Erie ice anglers beware; sleeping giant has one eye open

Lake Erie MODIAS Imagery.jpg
Much of Lake Erie is still covered with ice, but the NOAA Coast Watch satellite imagery from Monday shows a large area of open water on the west end of the big lake. (NOAA Coast Watch)
D'Arcy  Egan, The Plain Dealer By D'Arcy Egan, The Plain Dealer
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on March 10, 2015 at 2:20 PM, updated March 10, 2015 at 2:21 PM
 
 
 
   
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CATAWBA ISLAND, Ohio -- The thaw is in full swing around Western Lake Erie. Windy weather is now the wild card in determining how long the sensational ice fishing season for walleye will last.

In the meantime, ice guides and state and federal officials are warning anglers to be cautious when heading out this week. Cracks in the ice are popping up all over. Slushy conditions are making travel difficult with all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles. Many access areas have become a muddy morass.

"Warm weather and winds will move the ice around," said fisheries biologist Travis Hartman of the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Sandusky Fisheries Unit. "Fishermen must be very aware of what is going on around them every hour they're on the ice.

"Use common sense. Don't go long distances on the ice or cross over the big cracks right now," Hartman said. "The ice is still pretty thick, up to 15 to 20 inches in spots, but it's deteriorating quickly. From here on out, it's going to be a day-by-day thing."

The National Weather Service in Cleveland reported, "The sleeping giant has one eye open and is beginning to awaken from its winter slumber. Ice has deteriorated along the shoals between the Western Basin and Central Basin. Folks ice fishing should be aware that ice floes could break off and entrap those that are on the ice."

A crowd of fishermen did head out Tuesday morning, with Rickard's Bait on Catawba Island reporting a large number of fishermen buying bait and lures. The parking lot at Catawba Island State Park was packed, as usual.

Not everyone is waiting for the inevitable. Put-In-Bay guide Bud Gehring towed all of his ice shanties back to South Bass Island on Monday.

"It's still fishable ice right now, but it's time for me to wrap things up," said Gehring. "The ice is crispy in the mornings, but a slushy mess by afternoon. When you guide on the ice, safety is your first consideration. I'm going to Florida next week to operate a big fishing boat, and I'll be back on Lake Erie for the summer walleye fishing."

"The rain forecasted for Friday and Saturday concerns me the most," said John Gribble of DB Sport Fishing Charters by phone on Tuesday morning. His air boat has been a familiar site on the ice this winter, the safest way to access offshore ice. With the thaw making most shoreline access areas a muddy mess in recent days, Gribble has been restricted to the Catawba Island State Park ramps.