Down the home stretch

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Behold, the woodchuck lied. After checking a few 10-day weather forecasts, it appears that we have a few days of ice building weather, until about Thursday, then we go into a longer stretch that may allow the ice to persist for what will probably be the end of winter. We are going into the final stretch of ice fishing. Open water crappie fishing cannot be far off.

Use this remaining ice fishing time wisely or you will be whining about not doing enough ice fishing for about 9 months.

The nearest Pennsylvania hot spot for catching crappie through the ice this winter has been Eaton Reservoir, a small lake in the north extension of Erie County lying close to the New York border. It is also a pretty good lake for bluegill and pumpkinseed. Perch fishing has not been particularly good, and pike fishing has been slow this winter. Fishing for both largemouth bass and smallmouth bass is pretty good.

Two primary access points for ice fishers are the boat launch near the dam, which is accessible through New York, and an area at the other end. You may find good crappie fishing in many parts of the lake. Stay wide of the aerators in the upper third of the lake.

Do not expect to catch jumbo crappie at Eaton Reservoir. But there are plenty in the 10-inch to 12-inch class.

Chautauqua Lake had pretty good walleye fishing this winter. Now we look forward to late ice crappie fishing. Because of the mixed up weather this winter, it is hard to say how the crappie fishing will be. Some respectable catches were made this winter, and some ice fishers had a hard time finding crappie. Finish the ice season in the Mayville area. Expect some nice bluegill and pumpkinseed. Yellow perch tend to be small, but sometimes anglers locate perch 10 inches to 11 inches.

Early season walleye fishing in the shallows should be very good this year. It might be a special year. Mark this on your calendar and stock up on stick baits.

If you have ever wanted to fish Lake LeBoeuf, this is a good year to try this small natural lake. Crappie has been hitting this winter. Ice conditions have been weak at times, so take an ice spud to check the ice.

This home stretch of ice fishing should be great at Presque Isle Bay. This is typically the time frame when the largest perch are caught. The main part of the bay has bounced back and forth between open water and fair to good ice. There is no guarantee the ice will be safe even after the cold days and nights. Factors other than temperature can have a big effect on ice here. The wind broke up the ice the last time.

A big tip for ice fishing for perch is to bring your sonar. Active perch often suspend well above the bottom, wherever they find food. Most regular perch fishers at Presque Isle Bay jig two holes at a time while the sonar transducer is in a third hole.

My favorite rig for Presque Isle Bay perch is a small Swedish Pimple at the end of the line, and a teardrop jig tied directly into the line about 18 inches above the Swedish Pimple. The Swedish Pimple is tipped with a small shiner. The teardrop jig is tipped with a maggot. Set both jigging rods in a rod holder. Rather than constant jigging, just bump, or jig, each rod every several seconds.

Do not waste much time with crappie fishing this year at Presque Isle Bay. The population is in a down part of the cycle. Some have been caught in Misery Bay. If the ice on the main body of the bay is poor, direct your efforts to Misery Bay.

Another exciting component of the winter fishery at Presque Isle Bay is the steelhead. Most of these great fish are caught by accident. Not many ice fishers target steelhead. I suggest setting tip-ups for steelhead using larger shiners.

Pike fishing usually is good through late ice. Presque Isle Bay has a decent pike population. Some get quite large.

My guess for the best late ice fishing within reach will be at Pymatuning Lake. It was loaded with big crappie last years, and there is no reason for much to have changed, except the crappie grew even larger. This big lake also has a very good population of larger walleye. Unfortunately for anglers, a large shad population has been making catching walleye difficult.

Ask for where-to-go instructions when you get bait, which is not hard to find at Pymatuning.