Every Lake Erie angler knows that cold weather doesn’t mean you have to pack your rods away. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! Lake Erie ice fishing is a great way to enjoy the lake’s waters and first-class action even during the colder months.
What’s on the winter menu on Lake Erie? The crème de la crème, of course – superstar Walleye, Yellow Perch, and tasty Crappie. The lake is relatively shallow, so it usually freezes over the winter, making it an ice angler’s paradise. If you’re not one to let the cold slow you down, you can’t miss this Great Lake adventure.
There are a few things you need to know before you head out to the lake. In this guide, we’ve tried to cover everything there is to know about Lake Erie ice fishing, from top catches to best spots and licenses.
If you’re wondering what warmer seasons on Lake Erie might offer, check out this guide. Let’s dive in…
Top Ice Fishing Catches on Lake Erie
Come winter and a lot of Lake Erie lovers and adventure seekers switch to ice fishing mode. Depending on the weather and the thickness of ice, the season usually begins around mid-December and lasts until March. So, what’s on the winter menu? The usual! In winter, you can still get your hands on Walleye, Yellow Perch, and Crappie.
Now, it’s time to take a closer look at the top three Lake Erie ice fishing catches.
Walleye – King of All Seasons
If you can’t stop thinking about Walleye even during the winter months, we understand. Going after this fish is a great way to not have to pause your favorite hobby even if it’s cold outside. The only things that change are the fishing conditions and techniques you’ll use.
Lake Erie’s ice fishing season is predominantly about Walleye. As soon as ice covers the lake, anglers rush to drill a hole and look for their prized catch. You’ll need to use airboats or snowmobiles to get to the Walleye spots, so ice fishing with a guide is the best idea. They’ll provide you with all the necessary equipment, including bait, hook, line, and a fish finder to locate the fish. Pay attention to the thickness of ice, though, for extra safety.
Ice fishing for Walleye depends on the time of the day and month – early, mid, and late winter action is different. For example, you can target Walleye in up to 40 feet of water around noon in mid-winter, but they’ll move into shallower waters later in the evening.
Getting Walleye to bite during the summer months isn’t that difficult, since they love to eat. During the winter months, however, these feisty monsters enter a stage of maintenance feeding, meaning that they eat just enough to stay alive before they head to the spring spawning areas. What does that mean for the winter anglers? A bigger challenge to get that bite, of course!
Yellow Perch – The People’s Fish
Even though Walleye is a year-round Lake Erie superstar, fishing for Yellow Perch is also incredibly rewarding. Even during the winter season, you can find big schools and stay on top of a hot bite, which means you’ll get yourself a tasty dinner.
Yellow Perch tend to stay in shallower water when the first ice covers Lake Erie. They prefer healthy vegetation with something like minnows, which they usually feed on. Apart from minnows, Perch feed on smaller bait fish, insects, and freshwater shrimp. Large schools of Perch move towards deeper waters in mid-winter and finally head towards their spawning grounds by the end of the ice fishing season.
It’s a well-known fact that Perch move in schools, so staying mobile and not concentrating on one hole is a key. Take advantage of a feeding frenzy, and once you get your bite, it’s usually easy to fill a bucket. As a general rule, when one Perch bites, so do the rest of the school.
If you’re planning a catch-and-release ice fishing trip on Lake Erie, make sure you pack the right equipment for it. When the weather is cold, it’s important to not let your Yellow Perch lay on the ice and snow for too long and release them back into the water quickly.
Crappie – In The Hearts of Millions
It’s easy to get arguably all of Lake Erie’s ice fishermen excited – just mention pulling Crappie through the ice. Even though these fish are not the biggest trophies around, ice fishing for Crappie is a skill any angler would love to master.
In the early winter season, Crappies are usually found along thick weed beds in up to 15 feet of water. Mid-winter, they move to slightly deeper waters, and towards the end of the season, come back to the shallows. The tricky part here is to keep up with their movements, which can be as hard as actually catching them. The thing is, Lake Erie Crappie move under the ice constantly throughout the whole winter season.
Ice fishing for Crappie is somewhat similar to the technique you’ll use when ice fishing for Yellow Perch. Drill a lot of holes and stay mobile! Local anglers use minnows along with bait that mimics plankton and lures.
An interesting thing about ice fishing for Crappie is that they feed at night. If you want to take advantage of the peak bite, you’ll need to consider heading out on the ice at dawn or dusk.
Fishing Season and Conditions
Depending on the weather and thickness of the ice each year, Lake Erie’s ice fishing season usually starts around mid-December and goes through March, peaking in January. You’ll see hundreds of anglers drilling holes and looking for their next dinner, and dozens of ice shacks around the lake.
While you’re planning your Lake Erie ice fishing adventure, there are a few important things regarding your safety you need to know:
- Check the ice thickness. It goes without saying that checking the thickness of the ice is extremely important. You can visit the ODNR Division of Wildlife website to find out more about the recommended thickness.
- Check the weather. We all know how unpredictable the weather can be, so make sure to check it multiple times – while planning your ice fishing trip and right before you head out.
- Don’t hit the ice alone. If possible, share your ice fishing adventure with a group of friends, family, or fellow anglers. There’s usually gear to carry, and an extra hand is always a good idea when you’re fishing on ice or snow.
- Pack a life jacket. Hardly anyone wants to spend too much time in the cold water in case of emergency, so wearing a life jacket is a must. You can actually wear a jacket under your winter coat.
- Hire a local guide. Heading out with an experienced and knowledgeable local guide is always a good idea. They know the lake’s conditions and the “hottest” spots under the ice. They also usually take care of transportation and provide all the necessary ice fishing gear.
Top Ice Fishing Techniques on Lake Erie
You’ve found the right guide and are ready to head out to the lake and begin your Lake Erie ice fishing adventure. It’s only natural to wonder what kind of transportation and gear you’ll be using, and what techniques work best if you’re trying to catch a fish under the ice.
For transportation, local anglers usually rely on snowmobiles and airboats. Both are the safest options out there, however, airboats can be challenging to navigate when it’s windy. Snowmobiles, on the other hand, are more stable but are limited in space.
Lake Erie’s Walleye bite can be pretty unpredictable, so good navigational electronics and a fish finder can definitely help anglers locate the fish. If you’re not sure how to catch your target fish, the best idea is to hire a local guide. They usually carry all the necessary equipment and sometimes even have underwater cameras that allow you to see what’s lurking under the ice.
Spinning rods and reels, as well as jigging spoons and lures, are your go-to gear while ice fishing on Lake Erie. When it comes to the most productive methods for catching Walleye under the ice, you can go for jigging minnows and fishing with rattle baits.
Check out our ultimate illustrated guide to ice fishing in order to learn everything you need to know about this challenging winter sport.
Lake Erie Top Ice Fishing Spots
Ice fishing is a very popular activity on Lake Erie, so you can easily find a knowledgeable guide in almost all of the states that touch the lake. You can book a day trip or spend the whole weekend at a resort by the lake. There are various options available for all kinds of adventures; the only thing you need to decide on is where to start.
Lake Erie ice fishing in Ohio is so intense that anglers are spoiled with choice. It’s not hard to haul in Walleye, Yellow Perch, and Crappie all in one day, although sometimes you might have to go up to 10 miles offshore.
Port Clinton is a great place to start your ice fishing trip. You can also take an air taxi out of the city and fly to Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island. Some anglers work out of the launch raps at Catawba Island State Park, others prefer Sandusky Bay and The Old Bay Bridge or Geneva-on-the-Lake and Mouse Island off Marblehead.
New York, US
Ice fishing on Lake Erie’s New York waters heavily depends on the thickness of the ice. Due to the Niagara River’s currents, the conditions can be dangerous and unpredictable. It’s always a good idea to check the weather conditions before you head out on the lake and make sure you’re extremely cautious.
Sturgeon Point near Buffalo offers excellent Perch fishing action, and you may even get your hands on occasional Walleye. Here, you’ll need to hire a snowmobile to get to the productive fishing grounds.
The Pennsylvania part of Lake Erie offers nice ice fishing opportunities as well. Presque Island Bay is arguably the hottest spot around, especially if you’re hitting the late December or early January ice. The isle provides a sheltered bay with various launching points, such as Presque Isle Marina and many more.
Come January, and locals and visitors set ice-fishing huts at Misery Bay. It’s a great way to enjoy ice fishing on Lake Erie without having to go too far offshore for that bite.
Lake Erie is Ontario’s southernmost water with warmer temperatures. It means that the ice fishing season here is unpredictable. If the winter season is too mild, there’s not enough ice to be fishing safely. However, when the conditions are good, ice fishing on the lake’s Ontario side is just excellent.
The waters of the inner bay of Long Point provide solid Yellow Perch ice fishing action. Anglers put up heated huts and move around in snowmobile-drawn sleighs, looking for schools of Yellow Perch. St. Williams is another good spot to set your heated shelter.
Getting a Fishing License
The waters of Lake Erie are shared by one of Canada’s provinces, Ontario, and the US states of Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and Ohio. Ice fishing on the lake may require additional or separate fishing licenses. For example, a stand-alone Lake Erie fishing permit is available in Pennsylvania, while Ohio visitors must carry a Lake Erie fishing permit issued specifically for the period from January 1 until April 30.
Local ice fishing charters don’t normally provide fishing licenses, however, your guide will most likely be able to help you figure out which documents to prepare.
There are some regulations on all of your Lake Erie catches. For example, the minimum size for Bass and Yellow Perch varies depending on the season, unlike Crappies. And, of course, if you come across Sturgeon or Spotted Gar, make sure to not hook them at all or release them right away – these species are among the endangered ones, and the season is closed year-round.
Ice anglers from Canada who are planning to fish on the Canadian side of Lake Erie will need to obtain an Ontario fishing license and an Outdoors Card. You’ll need these and a Remote Area Border Crossing Permit if you’re a US citizen. Find out more about the requirements for residents and non-residents here, and check out our full list of licensing guides in the US here.
It’s Ice Fishing O’Clock on Lake Erie!
Fishing on Lake Erie is incredible all year round. Now that you know how great ice fishing here is, you can understand why so many winter enthusiasts love it here. If you ever decide to check what’s hiding under the ice, there are multiple guides on both sides of the lake that can put you on lots of fish.
If you’re planning on bringing your family or friends along, and some of them are not so keen on ice fishing, there are various indoor and outdoor activities they can enjoy. You might not be able to join them, but you’ll surely know what’s for dinner!
Have you ever been ice fishing on Lake Erie? What’s your most memorable catch? Share your advice and fun stories in the comments below!