Though later than usual, Erie welcomes ice fishing season
Luke Soboleski and two friends dragged their equipment-laden sled onto the Misery Bay ice on a recent sunny afternoon, joining about 25 other huts dotting the popular Presque Isle State Park ice-fishing spot.
Soboleski, 19, of McKean, and his friends drilled three holes — one for each fisherman — and then used their auger to carve an additional hole in the ice.
Soboleski lowered an underwater camera into it, and the three men, including Edinboro University of Pennsylvania students Tyler Waltenbaugh, 22, and Hunter Klobucar, 20, settled into a hut to watch the underwater activity on a monitor.
“I just bought a new camera, you cast it down and it shows if you’re over weed beds or what kind of base you’re working with — whether it’s sand, mud, and what kind of fish you’re seeing down there,” Soboleski said. “You can also tempt the fish a little bit, so if they’re staring at it, you can give them the right motion to indicate a strike. It gives you a little advantage over some of the other fishermen, being able to see what’s going on down there.”
Their heater kept them toasty warm inside the hut.
“With the heater inside, it gets to 80 degrees,” Soboleski said. “You can fish in a T-shirt.”
The anglers spent a couple hours fishing on Misery Bay ice, which measured several inches in depth.
“I fish year-round,” Soboleski said. “No matter where I go, I have a pole in my Jeep and I’m ready to fish.”
Until recently, he didn’t have the option to ice fish. A mild winter meant open water or unsafe conditions until about a week ago.
But a week of sub-freezing temperatures — and a deep freeze due — were expected to rescue the ice fishing season.
Recently, there have been reports of anglers ice fishing near the weed beds at Presque Isle State Park, at the park’s Marina Lake, Horseshoe Pond and Misery Bay, off of the Chestnut Street access area on the bay, at Eaton Reservoir in North East and Greenfield townships, and at Lake Pleasant in Venango Township.
Soboleski’s love for ice fishing helped pique interest in the winter activity with Waltenbaugh, a junior communications major at Edinboro University, and Klobucar, a sophomore geology major at the school.
Both students are members of the Edinboro University Flyfishing Club, which formed in 2018.
“This is my first time ice fishing this season,” Waltenbaugh said of his weekend trip to Misery Bay. “Now that everything is frozen, it’s cool to come out here and do this. Even though this is for little fish like perch and crappie, we don’t typically go after them in the summer, but it kind of makes it more interesting in the winter.”
Ice-fishing conditions had been were decent and improving until heavy rains and temperatures in the high 40s throttled activity.
“Before we had the rain, there were plenty of huts on Horseshoe Pond,” said Laura Daniels, owner of Presque Isle Angler Bait & Tackle, 34 State St. “There were about 25 to 30 huts at Horseshoe Pond and about 25 huts on Misery Bay on Tuesday (Jan. 22). There were four inches of ice in the bay off of Chestnut Street before the Wednesday rains.”
Frigid temperatures then helped to re-establish more favorable ice fishing conditions throughout the region.
“We should see people fishing all over the place in the next week,” Daniels said.
As anglers hope for and prepare to break the ice on another season of their favorite winter activity, Daniels is ready to handle the demand.
“I didn’t put in as much stock this season, but I have rods and lures, jigs and bait,” Daniels said. “I have no augers. I sold the last auger the other day. I have some auger blades and I do have some huts. … Business has been slow the past week, but I expect that to change real soon. Everybody is excited to get on the ice. I’m anticipating being pretty busy by this weekend.”
Ice fishing at Presque Isle State Park typically starts during the first week of January. There is usually ice on Misery Bay and at Horseshoe Pond around Christmas. Those areas tend to freeze quicker because they’re protected from the winds and are not large bodies of water.
Erie resident Devan Hudson, 24, and his stepson, Aiden Ramey, 13, of Lake City, spent a recent afternoon on Misery Bay. Each started ice fishing a year ago.
“I’ve been slowly learning and I love it,” Hudson said from inside his ice hut. “You’re out in the cold, but as long as you have a hut and a Little Buddy heater, you’re good.”
Nearby, Ramey, a seventh-grade student at Rice Avenue Middle School in Girard, sat on a bucket and intently stared at his line.
“I’m having my time out here and enjoying my time,” he said.
Ice fishing can be much more enjoyable when proper safety measures are taken, said Jerry Skrypzak, president of the Save Our Native Species of Lake Erie, a fishing advocacy group.
“Never go out alone and always make sure somebody else is around,” Skrypzak said. “You should always wear a life jacket and use spikes, which are like ice picks. If you fall through the ice, you can use them to climb out.”
Skrypzak does not advise anglers to venture onto any ice that is less than 6 inches thick. “Some people will go on ice at four inches,” he said. “A lot of guys will carry a rope in case someone needs to be rescued. Also, bring a spud bar and use common sense.”
Ice conditions were expected to improve significantly with forecasts calling for single-digit and below-zero temperatures.
“Last year I was fishing on Christmas,” Soboleski said. “We were real excited when we heard there was going to be some good ice over the weekend.”
Additional Misery Bay trips are planned.
“This is what I do,” Soboleski said. “I’ve been fishing since I was three or four. I like the type of fishing here — the crappie, the perch — and also there’s more solid ice here. A lot of spots aren’t frozen yet and I don’t feel safe on them. My buddies and I were itching to get out and Misery Bay is one of the best spots to go early season.”