Winter fishing reeled in and weighed

A brisk breeze swept across Petty's Bayou Monday afternoon as Don Erwin huddled around a hole, staring into the darkness he had carved through a mottled layer of cold crystal.
Marie Havenga
Apr 2, 2013

Less than 60 yards away near the Bowen Bridge, a duck climbed from open water onto a jagged ice ledge and waddled toward Erwin.

“I've been feeding him,” said Erwin, a pile of half-frozen perch twitching helplessly on the ice beside him.

Erwin said he wasn’t worried about the nearby open water. Where he's standing, a five-inch floor of ice separates him from a potential polar plunge.

“But this should all end here shortly,” he said, surmising he will hang up his ice cleats for the season.

A nearby fisherman chimed in: “Most places there isn't any ice to walk on at all.”

Monday's fish tale was fruitful for Erwin. He hauled in close to 40 perch from a motionless underworld, where stagnant sediment settled like Spanish moss.

“In a couple of weeks, you'll see all the fishermen up there,” said Erwin, pointing to cars cruising over the bridge on Fruitport Road. “The perch are getting ready to spawn. They're coming in and getting ready to bed down.”

The 2012-13 ice fishing season is melting into the history books. Ice is receding from the shoreline of area bayous and it may be time to put away the poles, according to Willis Kerridge, owner of Fish On Bait & Tackle, 13664 Cleveland St.

“The edges are going pretty fast,” Kerridge said. “I think this is probably the end of it.”

Kerridge ranked this season a “5 or 6” on a scale of 1 to 10. That's a tip up from last year, which he called a “1 or 2.” However, it's not on the scale of two years ago, when conditions were ideal to lay around the shanty.

But this year had something up on other seasons — the best fishing came in March, Kerridge said.

“We actually had bettter fishing in the month of March than any other month this year,” he said. “That's very rare. They fished locally up until a few days ago, and they're still fishing up north.”

National Weather Service meterologist Wayne Hoepner said the average temperature in March was 31.4 degrees along the Lakeshore, close to four degrees below normal.

But temperatures should be on the rise soon.

“I want to make sure people remember as the ice gets thinner it's going to get tricky,” Hoepner said. “People ought to be careful out there.”

John Stillson, owner of Lakeview Marine & Tackle, 24 S. Beechtree St., said ice fishing enthusiasts had a 14-day window in mid-January before an ice backup on the Grand River caused unstable conditions.

By February, strong ice resumed for about two weeks. It has since faded on the river bayous.

“Everyone has put away most of their ice fishing stuff except the guys trying for perch over by Petty's,” Stillson said. “But I recommend people stay away from the bridge over there. When they put salt on the roads and the plow pushes snow over the side of the bridge and when there's water dripping down, that thins up the ice.”

With the expiration of fishing licenses on Sunday, Stillson said it may be time to reel in the ice version of the sport and cast toward spring.

Stillson predicts fishing enthusiasts will start heading from Petty's to the pier head.

“They're into steelhead fishing now,” Stillson said. “I hear it kicked in pretty good over the weekend.”

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