EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Roger Whitley’s gas-powered auger took a little longer than usual on Thursday to churn through the ice on Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids.
“It looks pretty thick,” the Wyoming man said. “It seems like it’s taking a while to go through.”
Four inches of ice on a lake is considered safe enough for people to go out on.
“That’s good ice,” Whitley said. “Seven inches. I like that.”
The last two winters were warmer than usual and came with warnings from police: Don’t trust the ice. But some didn’t listen. Last February, East Grand Rapids public safety officers rescued a man who had plunged through Reeds Lake’s thinning ice. It was 62 degrees that day, a better day for golf.
Not so much on Thursday.
During West Michigan’s coldest eight-day stretch in more than a century, ice fishing shanties are sprouting up on lakes all over.
Even the current conditions, though, aren’t safe enough for those called out for ice rescues.
“You’re never going to get a public safety officer or firefighter to tell you that the ice is safe,” East Grand Rapids Public Safety Sgt. Jeff Metternich said.
In his 26 years on the job, his department has rescued at least two dozen iced anglers from Reeds Lake, including the man last year, he said.
But even he conceded this year’s ice is better than it was last year or the year before that.
“The ice conditions right now, on the face, are relatively stable,” he said. “That being said, ice is very dynamic.”
On Thursday evening, at least a dozen people huddled in heated shanties on Reeds Lake.
“A lot safer this year, so far, what I see right now,” Whitley said. “Yeah, I’m a lot happier. I usually wait till I see shanties out, too. I see other people, let them explore.”
He and his friend, Spencer Kroesing, started Thursday with test holes.
“I think I’ll set up here,” Whitley said when he found a good place for a shanty.
“Right now, we’re trying for perch,” Whitley said.
They used sonar to find the fish.
“There might be something down there. Looks like something down there,” Whitley said as a red line wiggled up and down on the sonar screen.
The first perch he pulled out, though, was too small even as an appetizer.
“Find your daddy,” he said, tossing it back.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is hosting ice fishing lessons in Cadillac later this month and in February.