Whether fishing for crappies in Misery Bay, Marina Lake or Head-of-the-Bay, you will also catch bluegills and yellow perch.
Destination: Icing PA’s Presque Isle Bay Crappies
by Darl Black
A fishing trip to Presque Isle Bay can also be an educational experience on the history and ecology of Lake Erie.
During the winter, 3,500-acre Presque Isle Bay (PIB) in Erie, Pennsylvania is best known for its yellow perch fishing. Massive schools move from Lake Erie into the Bay in late fall to feed and remain there to spawn at ice out. PIB is also year-around home to an impressive black crappie population – but they don’t receive as much winter attention from local anglers as perch.
Steeped in historical and environmental significance, Presque Isle Bay is enclosed by a 7-mile long arch-shaped peninsula with a very narrow (but deep) channel to Lake Erie proper. Admiral Perry wintered over here during the War of 1812 to protect the fledgling U.S. Lake Erie fleet from the British, and in the spring sailed forth to defeat the British fleet. The role of Lake Erie in history is documented at the Erie Maritime Museum on the bayfront, and the unique ecology of the peninsula is presented at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at the entrance to Presque Isle State Park.
Although an individual may be focusing on crappies, an angler rarely catches only crappies through a PIB ice hole.
According to Kirk Rudzinski, longtime angler and owner of the East End Angler bait shop, winter crappies will be found at depths from 5 to 12 feet relating to decayed weedbeds in three distinct areas of PIB. The first area is Misery Bay, a secondary bay in the northeast corner of PIB. Crappies are also found in Marina Lake, a secondary bay on the Peninsula side of PIB where the State Park Marina is located. Finally, winter crappies dominate the less defined western area known as Head-of-the-Bay – a shallow flat dotted with reed islands where the peninsula is attached to the mainland.
“Trying to predict when there will be safe ice on Presque Isle Bay is impossible,” says Tim Tomlin of the Presque Isle Bay Anglers group. “Years ago, it was ice by Christmas. But in recent years, we have not had ice until mid to late January – sometimes not until early February. That makes for a short ice season.”
On the positive side, the three areas which support winter crappie populations are the very spots that freeze first.
Tomlin’s favorite ice fishing lures for crappies are Terry Bugs, small soft plastic baits manufactured locally by B.C. Bait Company. When initially searching for crappies, he employs a 1.5-inch Lindy Rattlin’ Flyer spoon in Firetiger color to get their attention and help zero in on fish location.
An avid ice angler and hardwater tournament competitor, Gus Glasgow often makes the 1-1/2-hour drive from his home to Presque Isle Bay.
“Crappies are my first choice to target on PIB. Pre-fishing for competition, I’ll traverse the entire Bay but almost always find the best crappie fishing in Misery Bay.”
Using a Garmin 73SV sonar, Glasgow searches for holes or gaps in the massive weedbeds, as well as the deep edge of weeds, explaining that crappies tend to suspend in these openings and on the outside edge of large grassbeds. Especially when feeding early and late in the day, crappies also position themselves above the top of thick decayed vegetation. Crappies are typically high in the water column, but on occasion may be as deep as 10 feet.
“I never use live bait, relying primarily on mini soft plastic baits on tungsten jigheads which I drop in front of fish observed on my electronics,” continues Glasgow. “Experience on many different lakes demonstrates that crappies in each body of water seem to show a preference for a certain color – perhaps due to the tint of the water or the bait they are feeding on. At Presque Isle, red is hands down the best color in small plastic and tungsten jigheads. I rely heavily on heads and tiny plastic bodies from ADK Custom Jigs.”
Although an individual may be focusing on crappies, an angler rarely catches only crappies through PIB ice holes. Bluegills are abundant in the same areas. Furthermore, while the larger perch schools are generally deeper and tend to be associated with the city side of Presque Isle Bay, they nonetheless show up in the secondary bays with crappies and bluegills as well. Also, you may tag a northern pike or two, and perhaps a steelhead, as well. If planning a multi-day visit to Erie and Presque Isle Bay ice, be sure to bring a long spinning rod. You may want to try for steelhead trout making their winter run into the tributaries.
For overnight lodging at a reasonable price, Glasgow suggests the Comfort Inn. Resident foodie Tomlin recommends New York Lunch on East Ave for amazing Greek food. Or if looking for simple beer and wings, then Odis 12 on 12th Street is the place. As mentioned above, you and the entire family will enjoy visiting the Erie Maritime Museum and Tom Ridge Environmental Center.
For up to the minute information on PIB fishing status, check in with Kirk at East End Angler (814-898-3474). For additional info contact VisitErie.com.
(Darl Black has been fishing since he was old enough to pick up a fishing rod. He penned his first angling article in the mid-1970s on a now-extinct writing device called a typewriter. During his career as an outdoor writer and photographer, Darl has fished throughout the US and Canada for many freshwater species but still enjoys fishing for crappies.)