No ice, no problem

Becky Vargo • Jan 8, 2019 at 12:00 PM

More than a dozen fishermen lined Smith’s Bridge on Sunday as the sun rose on another mild early January day, and they were rewarded for their efforts as the perch were eagerly biting. 

And that’s a good thing, because there’s no ice fishing going on anywhere in the Tri-Cities area.

The exception is one person who went out on Bruce’s Bayou, said Lakeshore Marine & Tackle owner John Stillson.

“I told him he was walking on thin ice and it wasn’t safe,” Stillson said.

Mild winter temperatures have kept the ice fishermen off the bayous.

“Normally, we’ve been averaging right around Christmas” for safe ice, Stillson said. “You need 2 and a half to 3 inches before it’s safe.”

In addition to warm temperatures, the water level is more than 18 inches higher than normal, which contributes to faster currents.

“This rain doesn’t help, either,” Stillson said Monday.

Instead, when the weather is nice, people have been flocking to the bridges, most notably at Smith’s on West Spring Lake Road in Ferrysburg, Petty’s on Fruitport Road in Spring Lake Township and Stern’s on Green Street in Robinson Township.

When Lake Michigan is calm, fishermen are going out there and catching perch 11- to 13-inches long, Stillson said.

There are always the regulars out there daily on the bridges, but this past weekend’s sunshine brought people out in droves. Stillson said he had about 40 customers Friday and more than that Saturday.


“We actually sold out of minnows this weekend,” he said Monday. “We’ve never sold out of minnows in just a few days.”

The normal go-to bait in the winter is wax worms and spikes, Stillson noted, and there are still plenty of those in stock.

Josh Newell of Muskegon spent several hours fishing off Smith’s Bridge on Sunday with friends Tyler Skok and Shane Hanks. By early afternoon, they were loading up on the keepers and throwing back some small perch and white bass. They appeared to be the most successful group on the bridge. 

“We were there about 2-3 hours catching a mix of yellow perch and white perch, one after another,” Newell said. “We ended up with a total of 35 keeper fish.”

Newell said their baits of choice were minnows and wax worms.

According to the National Weather Service, the temperature is expected to drop significantly Wednesday and stay colder for a few days.

“The water is cold enough,” Stillson said. “If we have under 30 degrees every day, within 4-5 days we’ll have 2 and a half to 3 inches of ice. ... Don’t go out until it’s safe.”

Stillson also recommends always going fishing with a buddy and to take a long rope with you.

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