Put-in-Bay's normally booming ice fishing business has been put on ice this season.
With January's temperatures fluctuating from 65 degrees to below zero, Lake Erie has still not iced over. That means the season may be a bust for island businesses that usually thrive on serving intrepid fishermen who fly in from Midwestern states.
John Hageman, owner of Prime Time Ice Charters on Put-in-Bay, said he's uncertain whether ice fishing will happen this year.
"Normally, we consider January ice-making month -- not this year," he said.
A typical ice fishing season runs from the second week of January to early March.
Unless temperatures drop below 32 degrees for at least two weeks, Lake Erie will not freeze, AccuWeather meteorologist John Newhard said.
"It's been fairly warm so far," Newhard said. "The water really hasn't cooled down to the point where it's (frozen) easily."
Ice formed briefly more than a week ago near South Bass Island, but it was not thick enough for safe ice fishing, said Pat Chrysler, a year-round fishing guide on the island.
The ice was less than an inch thick. Ice needs to be 6-8 inches thick for safe fishing, Chrysler said.
In the past six years, significant ice has formed only twice: 2003 and 2005. No ice formed in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
Put-in-Bay, a tourist-heavy summer spot, relies heavily on ice fishing to bring in income during the winter.
"If the ice comes in, it picks up considerably," said Don Thwaite, co-owner of Skyway Restaurant. "That's a big part of the winter economy."
Hageman uses his ice fishing business to supplement his income during the winter. He can usually net $6,000-10,000 in a typical season.
"It's very important for a lot of people over here not just the ones doing it for hire," Hageman said. "Lots of residents are all about it. It's an obsession really. And it's too bad when we don't get it."
Since the winters are inconsistent, it's often difficult to track how much money the ice fishing industry brings in to the local economy, said Maggie Beckford, executive director of the Put-in-Bay Chamber of Commerce.
Yet, when the fishing is good, hundreds of people flock to the island during the winter, Beckford said.
Despite the warmer than usual temperatures, Chrysler said a temporary thaw could make for a better ice pack should temperatures drop enough.
"By the second week of February, we'll shape up," he said.
If the ice does freeze up, be cautious when ice fishing. Here are some tips:
-- Dress in layers.
-- Keep a cell phone on hand for emergencies.
-- Bring a rope, compass and ice spud -- to check ice thickness.
"Yeah, you have to worry about falling through, but common sense and some good luck will carry you through," said John Hageman, owner of Prime Time Ice Charters on Put-in-Bay.