Fishing at its best and coldest

By Kathy DeMott

There are those who love to fish. Then there are ice fishers. They face frigid temperatures bundled in layers of clothing, pulling a sled filled with supplies to sit on bucket seats for hours on a frozen lake in hopes of catching the next big one. For some, it is a way to enjoy the outdoors, time with friends, or “a place to go when I get on my wife’s nerves.” For many, it’s family tradition.

South County has a plethora of lakes to choose from, each with its unique draw. Sunset Lake is often one of the first lakes to freeze so fishers come early to catch blue gill. Hogsett Lake has pike and a sledding hill for the kids. Deeper lakes like Indian and Portage are great for perch.

Safety is critical. Proper clothing is required; the better insulated, the longer one can fish. Ice fishing float suits are designed to help you float until you can climb to safety if the ice breaks. If this happens, roll to safer ice before standing. Fishing with others is recommended.

Once suited up, bring an ice spud to check the thickness of the ice. According to the Michigan DNR, there is no reliable “inch-thickness” to determine safety. The strongest ice is clear with a bluish tint while weak ice appears milky. Slush on ice weakens it and snow-covered ice insulates it, which could slow the freezing process or weaken the ice. Avoid open waters or shores with water present.

Don Kinney, 72, has been fishing since he was five. “If there’s a fish to be had in Vicksburg, I know where it lives. I’m a fishing fool.” He likes the convenience of Sunset and Hogsett because they are close to the beaches and easy to access. Austin Nufer says, “ice fishing allows you to fish in places you can’t access with a boat.”

Scott Byers of Vicksburg enjoys making memories with his children. He admits it can be work, drilling holes, moving site to site, but says, “Ice fishing is like a fishing bonus.” Courtney Zuniga says the cold temps are worth the reward of fresh fish.

There are plenty of fish stories such as catching a 31-inch pike on Indian Lake, a six-pound bass on Sunset, and a 42-inch pike on Portage. It’s part of the thrill. John Kiel of Schoolcraft grew up fishing with his dad and brother and now is teaching his daughters. Once while tip-up fishing with friends they tried hotdogs as bait on half the lines. After an evening of cards, coffee, and camaraderie, they had caught just as many pike with hotdogs as with shiners.

Double L Bait and Marine on South Sprinkle Road tries to keep a variety of perch minis, shiners, wax worms, and suckers as well as ice fishing supplies. Owner Clarence LaComb said ice fishers like to “chat it up” when they stop in; he enjoys the interactions. Whether they’re an avid ice fisher or just getting started, he invites them to stop by for supplies, bait, safety tips and a few good fish stories.

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