It’s Time for Ice Fishing

Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni

Although many people don’t especially care for long stretches of subfreezing temperatures, there are exceptions, and among them are ice fishermen. Since ice fishing becomes more popular the farther north one goes, it’s kind of amazing we have the number of ice fishermen we do. Our part of the state is probably the farthest south one could expect any reasonable amount of time for ice fishermen to enjoy their sport. Safe ice is so unpredictable that it may never even occur during a given year, and if it does, it’s only for a matter of days or weeks. That’s why years like this are special for the ice fishing fraternity.

Fishermen can be found drilling holes through the ice on any body of water regardless of size. We are fortunate enough to have three canal lakes within a 20 mile radius of I-75, and all of them provide decent ice fishing when conditions are right. According to reports, Indian Lake is currently producing excellent crappie and saugeye fishing. Lake Loramie ice fishermen are catching a lot of bluegills all around the lake. Lake St. Marys ice fishermen are starting to take some crappies and a few perch, however fishing pressure has been light. Evidently, the lakes that are the hottest draw the biggest crowds. However, that doesn’t mean that decent fishing isn’t available at all of the canal lakes at any given time.

Ice fishing has its own set of requirements. Primarily, if catching a lot of fish in relative comfort is a goal, be prepared to spend some serious money and develop a set of special skills to do the job. A serious ice fisherman, along with an assortment of fishing tackle, will have an ice shanty and the most up-to-date electronics. A sled to haul everything is also a must. In terms of fishing success, fishermen who have developed the skills to operate various fish flashers, sonar phones, and underwater cameras have a distinct advantage over those who are lacking. Modern electronics used by ice fishermen have the ability to show a fisherman the presence of fish and his bait in real time. That means a fisherman skilled in using a fish flasher can move his bait in front of a waiting fish. This is especially effective when dealing with fish that suspend often, like crappies.

Ice fishing can provide excellent table fare. I’ve always felt that fish taken from colder water tend to taste better. However, deciding to spend the cash needed to get into the ice fishing game brings second thoughts no matter how delicious the fish might be. Searching various chat rooms provides a decent clue showing how much a serious ice fisherman spends in any given year. If these fishermen are telling the truth, most spend between $1000 and $2000 each season. In many cases, this number does not include gas and bait. According to my simple math, if an ice fisherman puts up a 100 pounds of fillets, which seems like a lot around here, his fish are costing at least $20 a pound on a bad day. That’s expensive eating. On the other hand, ice fishing can be experienced without making a lot of major expenses, but don’t expect to be as comfortable or catch fish as consistently as those who invest a lot of time, energy, and money. It’s not going to happen.

As always, no matter how often you go ice fishing or how experienced you think you are, safety should be a primary concern. Man is not an aquatic animal and doesn’t belong on the water whether it’s soft of hard. All prudent boaters take proper precautions while participating in their open water activities. The same should apply to ice fishermen. No matter how thick the ice might be, always expect the unexpected. There are numerous natural and man-made conditions that can make safe ice dangerous just a few feet away. Water always seems to be moving for whatever reasons even under the ice. Any open-water fisherman on Lake St. Marys has noticed various currents created by an unexplained source. Why are some areas of the lake frozen while others remain open regardless of how cold it is? How safe is the ice on a reservoir when water has been rapidly lowered creating an air pocket between the ice and the water? I don’t want to find out. The bottom line is that if ice fishing is your sport, now is the time to enjoy it. Catch a lot of fish, enjoy the solitude on the ice, and most of all be safe.