Ice fishing on Lake Erie is memorable. A veritable source of walleye, Erie has 58 different fish species, many of which can be successfully targeted during the winter months. If you are thinking about an ice fishing adventure on Lake Erie, there are some key elements that can make or break a trip.
Ice fishing on Lake Erie presents several unique but surmountable challenges. Straddling the borders of the US and Canada, fishers must maintain legal compliance, and overcome unpredictable weather and selective ice fishing opportunities. Doing so can yield a rewarding ice fishing trip.
A successful ice fishing trip on Lake Erie requires significant preparation. Considered small and shallow, comparatively, Lake Erie has unique weather and ice features, in addition to trophy fish. Read on to see what you need to know and be mindful of to have a successful Lake Erie ice fishing trip.
Ice Fishing On Lake Erie – The Weather
By understanding and heeding some Lake Erie realities, you can start your trip off on the right foot and ensure overall success in your ice fishing endeavors.
Weather on Lake Erie is always something to keep in mind, even during ice fishing season. The lake is considered shallow compared to the other Great Lakes and is known for westerly winds that create sizable waves, and upheaval and can affect ice quality.
In fact, a feature known as “ice dunes” appears when ice is blown by the wind to the eastern side of the lake and piles up. The dunes are exceptionally dangerous because they can frequently destabilize the ice underneath and pose a collapse risk.
In addition, the lake is known for unpredictable storms that can come up in an instant and create snow whiteouts. The lake can also shroud swaths of the lake and shore in impenetrable fog, even in winter, if the conditions are right.
Finally, the lake has a milder climate and can warm quickly. This can cause erosion and degradation of ice quality quickly. Add a quick warming trend to sustained winds and ice can transition from safe to unsafe very quickly.
Always check the weather a few days before your ice fishing trip, on the day of your trip, and throughout the day. Additionally, consult local websites regarding the thickness of the ice as these are often maintained on a daily basis.
Ice Fishing On Lake Erie – The Law
The legal dynamics of fishing on Lake Erie are also unique. The lake falls within MI, NY, OH and PA on the US side and the majority of the northern side lies in Canada. To fish legally on Lake Erie, an angler must know the region they are fishing and the applicable laws.
Consulting state Fish & Game, Conservation and Natural Resources websites is the best approach. Most rules and laws apply across the lake, but the paperwork needed can differ.
If possible, the best approach is to work with an ice fishing charter company or locate a guide that can help you with ice fishing on Lake Erie. While not as common as open water and warmer season charters and guides, they do exist. In most cases, charters cover all required licenses and permits. Check with your guide to see what, if anything they cover.
Hiring a charter or guide accomplishes at least three things:
- You get expertise that is learned from experience
- You don’t have to worry about what to do in an emergency
- Your chances of landing trophy fish are increased dramatically
Finally, regardless of whether you are hiring someone to help with your trip or going it alone, it never hurts to visit local bait shops and marinas and see if a local can offer up any advice. No matter how much you research on your own, local knowledge is always beneficial, and in most cases more reliable.
Ice Fishing On Lake Erie – The Fish
Lake Erie has more than 50 different species of fish. The most prominent in the order of priority of most Lake Erie fishers are:
- Salmon (Steelhead, Chinook, Coho, Pink)
- Trout (Lake, Brook, Rainbow)
- Bass (Smallmouth, Largemouth)
Other cold water fish include:
- Muskellunge (although fairly rare)
- Black and White Crappie
- Rock Bass
The lists here are only partial lists of all the fish that reside in Lake Erie or its tributaries. It is important to remember that while general laws and rules apply to all fish, some fish have state-specific regulations, so check those out in the state you are fishing before getting your ice fishing line wet.
Ice Fishing On Lake Erie – The Locations
Lake Erie is over 240 miles long. It has dozens of “regions,” usually identified with the state the area falls in or Canada. Areas that are great for ice fishing also vary. One notable area, acknowledged by just about everyone, is the Presque Isle Bay off Erie Pennsylvania.
Presque Isle Bay
The ice fishing appeal of Presque Isle Bay is that it is shallow, about 20 feet at its deepest, but large enough (about 5 miles long by 2 miles wide) to not feel crowded. It also has a natural barrier to harsh westerly winds coming across Lake Erie.
Protection from the winds is significant in two ways. Firstly, it is slightly warmer. Secondly, the size of the bay provides a fairly easily manageable swath of ice to navigate if the weather turns foul. Evacuation is not an issue, unlike the way it can be out on the larger lake.
Presque Isle Bay also has multiple tributaries that provide both freshwater to the bay as well as multiple fish species. The Bay is known for its salmon stock but has just about every other species of fish that reside in Lake Erie.
In terms of travel, the bay is easily accessed from multiple highways and is a short drive from both Buffalo and Cleveland. Its central location on the eastern shore of the lake make it an ideal destination during all seasons.
The Rest Of The Lake
Other areas of the lake that are good for ice fishing are harder to pinpoint. The smartest approach is to do research on the area you are interested in visiting and look for charter companies, guides, bait shops and marinas. Then give them a call and ask about the ice fishing.
Because the lake is so large and has so many different weather and lake conditions, it is difficult to tell from year to year if an area will be good for ice fishing. That means pinpointing a specific area (beyond Presque Isle Bay) is difficult because it is not stable from season to season.
Part of that instability is the lake itself. The weather on Lake Erie is unpredictable, being influenced constantly by cold northern, warm southern, and fast-moving western air flows. It is not uncommon to have more than one front move across the lake in a day and have multiple fronts over the lake at any given time.
That makes predicting where the ice is thick enough to fish on almost impossible. It also underscores how important it is that you do your own research before heading out.
Ice Fishing On Lake Erie – What You Need
When ice fishing on Lake Erie, it is important to divide gear into four categories. This way, when prepping for the trip, checklists can be made for each category, and nothing gets overlooked.
Those categories are:
- Fishing equipment
- Artificial and live bait
Dressing in layers is key to staying comfortable on Lake Erie when you are ice fishing. Having thermal underwear, wool or cotton slacks, a flannel shirt, ski suit or pants and a parka with a hood is generally a good ensemble. Additionally, wear a hat, fishing gloves and mittens. You should also pack at least two pair of sunglasses to shield the sun glare.
This depends on what you can endure in terms of the elements. It can get brutally cold when the temperature is below freezing and the wind is howling. If possible, a wooden shed is preferable, but this is subject to local rules and ice thickness. In most cases, a tent shelter will suffice if you are dressed properly.
An ice fishing rod that is built for larger fish is recommended. Additionally, while ice fishers can usually get away with lighter test line, the fish in Lake Erie can be huge, so a higher test of 10 to 20 pounds is recommended. If lighter test line is used, the angler should stay on top of their ice hole so they can wrestle a fish in quickly.
Reel size depends on the test line used. If you are fishing with less than 10 lb-test line, you should use a standard ice fishing reel. If you are fishing with 10 lb-test or more, you may want to consider a larger ice fishing reel or even use a freshwater reel.
Anything that you leave to set in the water should have heavy-duty equipment, including stronger than usual tip-downs, line and cross posts. This way, you are covered no matter what size of fish you hook. Larger line test does require more frequent check-ins to see if anything is on your line.
You may want to consider buying a portable fish finder as well. This can help pick your hole and can also give you an indication of how deep you need to put your bait. In addition, if you plan to keep your fish to eat, a stringer is necessary. Of course, to drill your ice hole, you will need either a manual or motorized auger.
Artificial And Live Bait
Both artificial and live bait are popular among ice fishers on Lake Erie. What you choose should be tailored towards the species of fish you are targeting. If you don’t have a specific fish in mind, rely on bait that works for walleye, because that bait will work on just about every other type of fish, including most trout and salmon.
Artificial lures you can use include spoons, jigs and spinnerbaits. They are lowered to the bottom and then pulled up anywhere from one foot to four feet off the bottom. Jerking the bait up and letting it flutter down is the best approach for spoons and spinners. With jigs, short jerks and shaking of the jig works best.
Live bait is something that you should consult a local bait shop about. Likely, they will recommend minnows. You may also want to consider stationary, non-live baits like dough and meat. Bear in mind that in very cold water live bait will expire quickly.
Ice fishing on Lake Erie requires a lot of preparation. With fast-changing weather and tricky conditions, having the right clothing and equipment with you is key. However, with lots of fish of different species in the lake, it can be a very rewarding ice fishing experience.