Lake Erie, even when frozen, calls to fishermen

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Photo submitted by Brian Thomas.

Looking out onto the lake on a clear day, little dots are spread across the horizon line. Ice fisherman have made their shanty villages. This is the second year in a row that ice fisherman have had ideal conditions to take to the lake. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory reports that the ice concentration of Lake Erie is at 96%, with ice coverage being close to 98%.

It is not typical to have such a high percentage of ice cover. According to NOAA, in 1979 the ice coverage in Lake Erie was 94.7%, in 2014 the ice coverage was 92.5% and in 1994 it was 90.7%. This comes from data that has been collected since 1973.

A reminder that no ice is safe ice, but veteran outdoorsmen are enjoying this year’s conditions.

Catawba Island State Park, Camp Perry and Crane Creek are hot spots for fishermen and have had full parking lots over the past month where anglers trek miles out onto the frozen tundra of Lake Erie.

Economic impact

Larry Fletcher, director of Lake Erie Shores and Islands West, gave the low estimate that our area sees over one million dollars from ice fishing.

“The bureau has talked with lodging facilities, vacation rental companies and charter captains,” said Fletcher. “In 2014, there were 3000 to 5000 trips taken onto the ice guided by charter captains. This does not count people who venture out with their own equipment. The conditions this year are even better than last.”

Fletcher said that an economic impact study specifically for ice fishing has not been conducted so it is hard to say for sure exact numbers. The million dollar estimate was found by taking charter captain trips times average spending plus overnight stays and meals. This does not count the local residents who do not use lodging services or those who do not use charter captain guides.

Environmental impact

Studying, monitoring and predicting ice coverage on the Great Lakes plays an important role in determining climate patterns, lake water levels, water movement patterns, water temperature structure and spring plankton blooms.

According to Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), in shallow waters where whitefish spawn, ice cover protects their eggs from destructive wind and wave action. Ice cover with little or no snow cover allows light penetration at the surface to promote algae growth. At the base of the food web, algae support living organisms in the lakes, including valuable commercial and sport fish species. 

Ice cover can be a significant factor in the commercial and sport fishing industry, which brings about $4 billion to the lakes every year.

With the growing algal bloom issues in the lake, a freeze may slow the growth of these blooms. The blooms, which thrive in warm water, lay dormant in the winter when the lake is frozen. There are many legislative actions happening to lessen the algal blooms and a big freeze will help the cause.

Invasive species

Ice fisherman and outdoor enthusiast A.J. Wozniak was fishing last month and caught a walleye; not just any walleye, though. This walleye had a friend attached: a sea lamprey. When pulling the walleye out of the ice, he saw the lamprey and grabbed it. It detached from the walleye and the walleye got away, but Wozniak had the lamprey.

Sea lampreys are parasitic pests and an invasive species in the Great Lakes. They attach to fish with their suction mouth and rows of teeth and use their tongue to go through the fish’s scales so it can feed on the host’s blood and body fluids. A single sea lamprey can destroy up to 40 pounds of fish during its adult lifetime.

Wozniak contacted the Ohio Department of Natural Resources about the sea lamprey and they wanted it to study.

For more information about ice fishing, ice cover, economic impacts or invasive species visit the following resources:

Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory: glerl.noaa.gov
Lake Erie Shores and Islands: shoresandislands.com
Ohio Department of Natural Resources: wildlife.ohiodnr.gov

ice fishing 2015

Fished northwest off of Catawba, but unfortunately only caught one small walleye. The experience and adventure was worth it.
Photo submitted by Jacqueline Rozek.

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