Fishing In Chautauqua County

How to fishing Lake Erie?

With ice on less than 6 percent of Lake Erie, there will be consequences on local beaches, sports and weather.

Valerie Myers @ETNMyers

Lake Erie is mostly open water this winter.

Ice covered just 5.6 percent of the lake surface and 12.5 percent of all of the Great Lakes Friday, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And higher-than-normal temperatures this weekend will have chipped away at that.

There are and will be consequences.

Ice concentrations significantly below the 1973-2014 winter average of 52.4 percent have all but eliminated ice fishing this winter, will affect the weather through early spring and will increase erosion at Presque Isle State Park.

"With the warmer winters we've had the last two years, we're going to have more erosion and are going to have to do a lot more to make the beaches usable in certain sections of the park, " Presque Isle State Park Operations Manager Matt Greene said.

Lake ice, and ice dunes, help protect the beaches and beach habitats. With no dunes and only surface ice close to the shore this winter, that ice, rather than protecting the beaches, can scour away areas where it's pushed by waves and wind, Greene said.

Areas of the park from Beach 6 to the Presque Isle Lighthouse are hardest hit by erosion because of prevailing winds from the west and northwest, and park officials are seeing that this winter, Greene said.

Wind and wave-buffeted Mill Road beaches "don't exist right now, " he said. "We've moved all of the picnic tables back, and lost a few there."

Park officials added sand at Beach 8 and Mill Road this past fall to supplement a smaller-than-normal 2016 replacement project. The park put down between half and two-thirds the sand it normally does because of a lack of federal funding.

"If we hadn't done that in the fall, the (shoreline) would be into the road right now, " Greene said.

Open waters have also taken a toll on ice fishing. The sport is dependent on ice that is thick enough to walk on, and there hasn't been a lot of that this season.

"There were a couple of days in January when the experienced guys who really know how to check the ice were out. But there hasn't been anything like a whole city of huts out there, " said Laura Daniels, owner of Presque Isle Angler Bait and Tackle, on lower State Street on Erie's bayfront.

Daniels' business this winter has slowed accordingly.

"I always tell people that when you have a business like ours, it's like being a farmer, it's that dependent on the weather, " Daniels said. "Some years with ice fishing we're so busy we can't even stand ourselves. Other years, like this, we have to sit back and look for alternative measures to unload our ice fishing stock — and we have plenty — in clearance sales or on the internet. There's got to be ice somewhere, in Minnesota maybe."

The winter of 2013-14 was the best for ice fishing in recent years, with consistently low temperatures, thick ice and a long season to drop lines for bluegill and crappie. Fishermen estimated that the ice on Misery Bay that winter was 2 feet thick.

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