Rough waters on Lake Erie, but no ice

TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - A frozen Lake Erie is a classic sight in the dead of winter, but that's not what's happening right now. And local fishermen are still getting to go out and catch a few, but not in the way that they're used to.

"Dress as if you're going in the water. Don't dress for the air temperature, dress for the water temperature," Seaman Matthew Reeves with the U.S. Coast Guard said.

It’s advice for anyone looking to go out on the ice this time of year. But there isn't any.

"Usually around February, we have good coverage. Obviously, this year with the open water, we literally see none," Reeves said.

And with the warm winter we've had so far, it's tough to judge the safety of any ice that does form.

"Ice is one of those things that are unpredictable, so you always want to make sure you have a float plan,” Reeves said, “so you tell people where you're going, what you plan on doing, what time you plan on getting back."

It’s another bit of advice you can use any time of year, even if you take your boat out in the middle of winter. That happens to be exactly what some people are doing right now.

During the warmer months, Russ Merrihew runs Reel Affair Charters out of Meinke Marina. He tells 13abc of recent weeks, "We have been fishing, in private boats right now. And there's a lot of guys out there, and a lot of guys are doing very well."

Merrihew says he's spent his whole life on the lake. Thinking back, he says, "The last time I've seen it this good, weather-wise, was about 25 years ago. We had a winter just like this."

He's thinking back to the winter of 1998, when we saw our lowest ice concentration on record. Along with knowing the waters well, Merrihew has an idea of what's ahead for fishing.

"We have a good hatch in the wintertime when we have it nice and cold for an extended period of time. When it's like it is right now, we're probably going to have a poor hatch,” he says. But he adds, “We've had three (hatches) right in a row that have been excellent. Fishing this year should be spectacular."

We also checked in with the National Weather Service office in Cleveland, and meteorologists there report that Lake Erie did reach 5% of ice coverage in January, but it has since melted off.