Anglers on Ice

Anglers on Ice
March 20, 2019 James Proffitt
Photo by James Proffitt

Lake Erie’s East Harbor THE winter fishing bright spot

Winter ice fishing can be had all over the Great Lakes region each year, though the southern-most Great Lakers aren’t guaranteed so much as the rest. But at least, even when winter is not kind to us, in an ice-fishing sense, we tend to work a little bit in. 

Photo by James Proffitt

One of the entrances to East Harbor’s ice fishing sites, Photo by James Proffitt

Lake Erie’s ice is fickle – it may come on any given year or it may not. But East Harbor’s always a sure bet for a good five to seven weeks of winter angling.


Call it hard water fishing or ice fishing. Either way it’s cold, although it could be warm. All depends on how you do it. But for certain, every year hundreds of thousands of Great Lakes residents and visitors spend time hanging out on top of the ice, working to finagle fish from beneath it.


“It’s been good, real good so far this year,” said Toledo resident James Kaiser as he sat in a tiny shanty on East Harbor. The harbor, at about 600 acres of surface area, offers shallow, weedy waters which are perfect habitat for bluegill and sunfish, yellow perch, crappie and bass. “I’ve been here four times this year and it can be spotty.  But you know, they turn on when they want to, then turn off when they want to,” Kaiser said.

A few days earlier Kaiser took home a dozen yellow perch ranging from 8 to 10 inches. And like most of the thousands of anglers who’ve hit East Harbor in the past month, he hooks tiny waxworms on tiny jigs. It’s the secret magic recipe. Seriously, don’t tell anyone.


The day I met Kaiser he took home 51 fish and dropped dozens of others, smaller fish, back through the hole.


People will drive an hour or better to fish East Harbor


Greg Fish (no relation to any actual, real fish) traveled from Amherst to ply his trade on East Harbor.  And he didn’t use a shelter. Instead, he donned a Canada Goose, down-filled outfit, hung outside and was quite toasty, reeling in almost three dozen fish (not related to him. Oh heck, I could have so much fun with an angler named Fish.) And he held two rods, both with handmade wooden handles.


“They’re from a great tackle shop called Bass Haven, up on Lake St. Clair in Ontario,” he explained, carefully holding the short rods out and turning them slowly, showing off the hand-turned handles. “I think they were only about $39, really a cheap price for all the work that went into making them.”


Fish eschewed the modern electronics many anglers use and was good with “old-schooling” it in the open with a rod in each hand and a timeless grin.


“That’s why I like to be out here in the open and not in a shelter. It’s just nicer, it’s real,” he explained, rod in either hand, no fish on a hook, and a small, intense smile. “That’s fishing.”


First things first: safety first.


When heading onto ice for hard water angling, remember safety first. As always, the fishing may be hot but the water is cold. And as ever, when it comes to ice fishing, James Kaiser’s advice is good. No, it’s timeless and universal: always better to be a follower than a leader … at least in fishing lingo.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Ice Chart

Featured Image: An angler finishes setting up shop, Photo by James Proffitt


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