More sunshine and temperatures in the 40s in February mean bad news for one local activity. Lake Erie is ice-free, and that means ice fishing just isn't happening this winter.
Captain Pat Winke hasn't run any ice fishing trips this winter or made any money. He says it's been at least a decade since Lake Erie went unfrozen all winter. And this is quite a contrast to last year. "Last year, I fished out of here. We were fishing 3 or 4 miles out catching walleye. A few days it was even farther than that."
The restaurant at Wild Wings Marina isn't nearly as busy as it usually is during ice fishing season. Motels, lodge and bait shops are all hurting for business. But the sunshine and mild weather did lure some fishermen here, bringing boats instead of snowmobiles.
Kenny Craig says, "We'd rather have ice. Without ice it tends to mud up with the wind and once it muds up it gets pretty bad so you have to wait for it to clear up again. Yeah, we miss the ice this year." And Scott Barnebee says, "Gotta find some minnows. Things are a little tough. No bait shops open, I don't think. So bait's an issue."
Small boats have already hit the water this week-- and there's hope that an early spring will reel in big business. Captain Tom Straus says, "With the mild weather we're having, it's going be a go the first of April. So we're all going to be busier. You know, it does have an impact with the ice fishing -- with the local hotels and restaurants and things like that. We just hope that we can get a lot of trips in April and that's what we're looking forward to."
If the milder weather holds, there will be no ice fishing. But it looks like the charter fishing business may get an early start. And many charter boat operators say that could lead to a very good April.