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Safe ice?

Matt DeYoung • Jan 9, 2016 at 7:00 AM

Last year, ice fishermen across West Michigan were perched on their pails catching limits of panfish shortly after Thanksgiving. 

This year, with an unseasonably warm start to winter, safe ice has been harder to come by. 

Still, there are a few options, according to Willis Kerridge, owner of Fish On Bait and Tackle in Nunica. 

“We’ve had guys fishing since Sunday on Bruce’s Bayou and the Eastmanville Bayou,” Kerridge said. “Those are the spots where I know the ice is safe. There’s 3 inches of ice out there, but it’s black ice, no snow on it.

”Last year, we were fishing on Dec. 5, and some guys were out just after Thanksgiving,“ he continued. ”It’s 2-3 weeks behind. Typically, we’ll have ice just before Christmas — but this year, we didn’t get it until this past weekend.“

Kerridge stressed that those heading out on the ice should use caution. He noted that the ice is very slick, so creepers — accessories that fit over your boots with metal studs on the bottom to gain traction on the ice — are a must. 

He also recommends a spud, which can be used to check the thickness of the ice, especially after temperatures hovered above freezing with scattered rain showers Friday. 

Ice fishing is expected to pick up across West Michigan in the coming week, as forecasted cold temperatures will lead to more ice forming. 

”A lot of guys feel safer if there’s 4-5 inches of ice — and by next weekend, we should have good ice almost everywhere,“ Kerridge said. ”We’re supposed to have a high of 12 or 13 on Monday, so other than Muskegon Lake and White Lake, all the local bayous — Sterns, Millhouse, Pottawattomie, Lloyds, Pettys — should be good by then.“

Anglers can access Bruce’s Bayou off 129th and 132nd avenues in Crockery Township. Kerridge said elevated water levels have boosted the fishing there.

“Bruce’s should be good this year because the water levels are high,” he said. “For a few years, Bruce’s wasn’t as good because it was shallow. Now it’s 11- to-12-feet deep.”

Eastmanville Bayou is accessible via a small park off 68th Avenue in Eastmanville, just south of the bridge spanning the Grand River. 

At this point, bluegills are the target of most anglers, but fishing for crappies and northern pike is expected to pick up as more safe ice forms. 

“Bluegill fishing is good, and we should be getting some northerns pretty soon,” Kerridge said. “They’re starting to move into the bayous out of the river.”

Most bluegill anglers use small baits called teardrops, tipped with wax worms or spikes. 

Those who prefer to fish with their feet on solid ground can do so by heading to some of the area bridges. 

“They’re still catching some perch on the bridges — Smith’s Bridge and Pettys Bridge,” Kerridge said. 

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