Meet Andy Setlock, an 82-year-old angler from Wickliffe who’s impatiently waiting for the central basin of Lake Erie to freeze solid, so he can go ice fishing.
Last year, the weather was too warm, and the lake never froze. This year, the temperatures have been frigid, but masses of snow are insulating the surface and making the ice soupy. “You can’t read it, said Setlock, who’s been fishing as long as he can remember. “I’m not a fan of Lake Erie when it’s iffy. I don’t want to be picked up on a big floating slab.”
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources says ice must be at least 4 inches thick to support an angler and gear (about 200 pounds). And while no ice is safe, clear ice has less impurities than cloudy ice.
The Cleveland Metroparks hope to host an ice fishing fundraising derby this winter, if the ice is sturdy.
So why go sit in the cold around a hole in the ice? It’s a question Setlock is asked a lot, especially by a younger generation entertained by tablets and cell phones.
“When you’re outside and there are nice big flakes coming down, with no wind, it’s just awesome. You can’t paint a prettier picture,” Setlock said. “There’s more to everything than just catching the fish. That’s extra. You gotta be able to enjoy what you’re going there for.”
Here are some other questions we asked during a phone interview.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What’s the lure of ice fishing?
It’s really nice if the weather isn’t ridiculous. Everyone like myself is dying to get out there
We used to have ice fishing parties out there with hot chocolate and hot dogs. It was great.
There’s a lot of good fishing, but the ice has to cooperate. There’s no ifs and buts about it.
What kind of gear do you need to go ice fishing?
You need warm gear most of all: snowmobile suits. Ice cleats, for when there’s no snow on the ice. These old bones don’t need to be taking any more falls. Ice picks, which hang around your neck with a little line. They’re very sharp. That’s in case you accidentally break through the ice, to hold you there or claw your way out. If anybody goes out that doesn’t have those, shame on them. That could definitely be a lifesaver.
Up until five years ago, in other sled I had, I carried a lifejacket with a long rope with an anchor that you could dig into the ice. I had to use it once.
I take rods, a fish locator, a thermos of hot chocolate, a muff around my neck, with handwarmers, since sometimes the fish are biting so fast you don’t have time to take the gloves on and off. I pull it all with a sled.
In some places, for $50 or $100 you can rent a heated hut, with bait. I’m not a fan of that.
It’s like anything. You don’t drive a car if you don’t know how.
How do you cut the ice?
You drill it. You can have an ice auger in 6, 8 or 10 inches. Some guys go out with a spud bar and punch a hole in the ice. Sometimes you can see a fish swim by.
You’re not allowed to break a hole in the ice bigger than 12 inches. It’s dangerous for your fellow fishermen. If little tots came out, they could fall right through.
Existing holes, some people might have caught their limit and left. And you can use it.
What makes ice fishing so great?
There’s nothing like cold fish. You take them and out and throw them on the ice. They freeze right away. While in the summertime, you have to try to keep them alive as long as you can.
We use maggots, minnows; waxworms are always really good.
How long are you out there?
As long as the fish are biting.
At night it looks like tent city out there, with all the lanterns. Walleye are nocturnal feeders, and crappie is a late-evening fish.
Any idea when you’ll get to go?
We’re ready to go. We’ve got the cold. The snow is making it tough for the lake to freeze. All we’ve got to do is get conditions that are favorable.
Once you see the lake and 50 to 100 fishermen all over the lake, then you know it’s safe for you.
Is ice fishing a good trade-off for the cold?
Everyone says, ‘Oh I hate winter.’ I don’t mind it at all. It’s Cleveland. If you’ve got the gear, you deal with it.