Coming from bitter cold water, their fillets are firm and flavorsome, worth getting a little chill to catch. But fishing Ohio's bigger lakes and reservoirs as well as Lake Erie is a little tougher than working a one acre farm pond for bluegills.
If there's a question for many, it's how do you find fish in a lake that might total hundreds of acres? And there are several answers to that question. First, if your wallet is thin, you might just walk out to where a concentration of anglers is sitting over their ice rimmed holes and join them. You'll probably catch a few. A much better choice is to buy a fish locator, flasher, call them what you will, and check the bottom before you fish. They're quick and easy. Just drill a very shallow hole, add some water, and let the equipment see what's below. An even better method for those who can afford one is a waterproof television camera with a small screen above in your ice shanty. These tell exactly what's down there.
Walleye are a favorite fish among Ohio ice walkers, and they're easy to find in winter. Come the early ice they'll likely still be fairly shallow around points and near shore bars, rock piles, sunken roads, sudden dropoffs and other good ambush cover. Then as the season progresses most will move to deeper water, mid-lake humps and reefs, and as spawning time nears they'll turn shallow again. The best time to catch walleye is an hour or so before dawn and an hour after, then an hour or so before dark and an hour after, though they'll bite sporadically all day and night.
Wise anglers will check lake maps, pick their spots and be out there well before dawn drilling holes here and there for later use. Boring holes with an ice auger will scatter every walleye below, especially in shallow water, so drilling several all at once will let the fish gradually return. Then you can try them one at a time until you hit paydirt. It's important to keep in mind too, that nearly all will be near the bottom, even though in late season some Lake Erie fish will suspend. If that happens let your fish finder tell you and adjust accordingly.
Since Ohio law allows two rods, many anglers will bait one with a lively minnow and lower it to near bottom, then jig with a second rod. If they're spooky and jig shy, they'll try the live bait, if not, the jigged offerings work fine. It doesn't hurt to actually touch the bottom occasionally either, since stirring up the mud a bit will bring curious fish to see what's going on. Best offerings? There are lots of these. Personally, I like Swedish Pimple spoons and Jigging Rapalas with a hook on each end and a treble below. I bait each hook with a shiner, drop to very near bottom and begin slow jigging with plenty of pauses between.
But a Lindy Techi-Glo Flyer lead jig with minnow is good, as are Acme Kastmaster spoons, the Nils Master Jigging Shad, and the Northland Tackle-Air-Plane jig in various colors. Many favor Stinger Spoons, Slender Spoons, or a Buckshot Rattle Spoon, too. You can find all of these in magazine advertisements or catalogs like Cabela's and L.L. Bean. I'd recommend you use any of the above with a minnow or two on the hooks for extra appeal. It adds up to good fishing for very good fish, and Ohio's lakes and reservoirs have them in plenty. Fish the right places with the right rigs and bait, and you'll fill your cooler. On a good day it won't take long.
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HOOKS & BULLETS
• Recently the Bass Angler Sportsmens Society (B.A.S.S.) along with other angling, conservation, and outdoor industry organizations submitted public comments in support of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. "Asian carp pose one of the greatest threats to the Great Lakes and the world-class smallmouth bass fishery that anglers travel from all over the country to enjoy" said B.A.S.S. Conservation Director Gene Gilliland. Among suggestions to prevent the fish from entering the Great Lakes are electric barriers, water jets, complex sound and a flushing lock.
• Lake Erie is definitely not known for lake trout, but they're there, and some big ones are caught each year. In fact, a new state record turned up on Dec. 1, a 26.63 pounder taken by James J. Beres of Lorain. Beres caught the whopper 38-inch trout on a JT Custom Crankbait while trolling with 20 pound test line. His catch replaces the previous record Lake Trout which weighed 20.24 pounds and measured 34 inches.
• Walleyes are biting near Lake Erie piers at night these days, and fish of up to 10 pounds plus are being taken from piers near Lakeside and Marblehead, from Huron to Lorain, and near Cleveland Harbor by casting with jerk baits. It's a chancy business since fish might move in and start biting at dusk, at midnight, or late night, or not at all. But when they're in and hungry, rewards can be great.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.