Warm winter takes toll on ice fishers, lake snow
BAZETTA — A thin layer of ice stretched across Mosquito Creek Reservoir on Monday morning, but at well less than half-an-inch thickness, there was still no safe opportunity for ice fishers to ready their hooks.
“I was surprised because yesterday it wasn’t frozen over and today I woke up and there’s ice all the way across, said Janet Yohman, a Bazetta resident and owner of Lakeside Sport Shop in Bazetta. “Mind you, it’s very thin, maybe an eighth of an inch.”
Experts recommend waiting until the ice is 6 to 8 inches thick before fishing on it.
Farther north, Lake Erie is less than 1 percent iced over well below the mid-January average of around 40 percent, according to WFMJ-TV chief meteorologist Eric Wilhelm.
“We are way behind schedule,ã Wilhelm said.”It’s been warm, and so it’s not unheard of for there to be this lack of ice this late in the season.ã
When area lakes don’t freeze in mid-January, it affects fishermen and their ancillary businesses but it also affects the rest of us with the climate effects.
Wilhelm said when Lake Erie freezes, it tends to cut down on lake-effect snow in the Mahoning Valley.
“Lake-effect snow happens because water interacts with cold air, moving it over it, and that causes moisture to rise and condense into precipitation,” Wilhelm said.
He said when a sheet of ice covers the water, it does not evaporate ä but when the lake remains unfrozen, there’s ample opportunity for snow and cloud cover.
“We’re seeing that today with some flurrying,” Wilhelm said Monday. The Cleveland area was also getting more serious lake-effect snow, he said.
A partial freeze doesn’t have as much impact on the weather, but could somewhat diminish lake-effect snow, he said.
Lake Erie’s surface water temperature Monday was around 32 degrees near the shoreline, warming to around 38 degrees toward the middle of the lake, according to daily data from the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration.
The shallowest of the Great Lakes, Erie usually freezes earlier than its deeper counterparts, some of which rarely freeze, Wilhelm said. Peak ice tends to form around Valentineás Day, diminishing towards the end of February.
This year, however, with more warm weather forecast for the end of January, Lake Erie probably will not get much ice this year, he said.
Smaller lakes like Mosquito Creek Reservoir, however, still may freeze over this season ä possibly allowing for some ice fishing.
“Ice fishing is very popular — especially on Mosquito, because, I think, just the heritage of fishing ä the really diehard people who just can’t get enough of getting out there,ã said Jack Wollitz, who writes the fishing column that appears Saturday in the Tribune Chronicle and Vindicator.
Wollitz called ice fishers “subset” of summer fishermen.
Yohman said when Mosquito Lake freezes fully over, a city of tents springs up on the lake. She estimates sheás seen as many as 200 tents on the lake at one time ä and that is only the south side, with more fishermen and women gathering in the north.
Ice fishers come from Pennsylvania, Akron, Cleveland and East Liverpool to catch crappies and walleye on Mosquito Lake, she said. But this year, Yohman said customers have told her theyáre going to Michigan to fish where there is ice.
âIám quite stocked up on ice fishing gear,ã said Yohman. With items staying on the shelves, sheáll be stocked up for next year too. Yohman sells sleds, augers and shorter ice fishing poles.
However, the warm weather has kept regular fishermen at the lake, which Yohman said has been just as good for business.
“The difference now is what weáre selling. We’re just not selling sleds and augers and cleats,ã Yohman said. “The regular fishing has been good.”
Joe Sofchek with the Mosquito Lake Marina said he has seen fishers in the marina and on the causeway, as well as boats on the water this January.
“There’s guys been out there ä and they are catching fish,” Sofchek said. He said the warm weather has also kept people walking around the lake and kept the dog park busy.
Yohman said already this year she saw people trying to fish on ice that was just 2 inches thick, which is not safe.
“It takes a good two weeks of good, below-freezing temperatures for people to start going out on it,” Wollitz said. “Some people, they go out way to early.”
Wollitz said 4 inches is the bare minimum thickness to go out on the ice, but he recommends fishers wait until the ice hits 6 or 8 inches of thickness.
In addition to the normal gear, ice fishers should take safety gear such as buoyant cushions or a life vest, and a way to pull oneself up if the ice breaks, he said.
“It’s a good idea to keep a couple of things like an awl or a couple small screwdrivers in your pocket in case you need to stab the ice to pull yourself up,” Wollitz said.
He said he always recommends people do not go ice fishing alone.
Yohman said her major recommendation is that fishers use common sense.