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Thin ice hindering ice fishing industry

Warmer weather has created what some fishermen called "the worst winter" they have ever seen.

MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. — The warmer weather this winter is making it difficult for fishermen to hit the ice. Some are even calling it the worst winter they have ever seen.

“Terrible, that’s the only word to describe it,” said Mitch Johnson, the owner of Johnson’s Great Outdoors in Montague. 

Johnson said the winter has been tough on business. They still have most of their ice fishing gear in stock, people just aren’t buying supplies. In fact, he’s had to put some items on sale. 

“I hate it,” said Johnson, “It’s not good. I enjoy the outdoors and being out there, it’s good for my business to have people see me out there catching fish. It’s important to do that.”

The Department of Natural Resources’ weekly fishing report for the Muskegon area warns ice has started to form, but it’s still not safe in most places. It also says to use extreme caution.

Johnson says he looks for between three and five inches of black ice on the lake before he ventures out to fish. However, some people were seen fishing close to shore Wednesday. One man across the lake said he measured three inches just a few feet from the marina on White Lake.

RELATED: Ice fisher families brave bitter cold, find fishing hot spot

Not everyone is as brave.

“I won’t go out,” said Bill Hellman, an ice fisherman, “I’ve been out once this year, and I didn’t get very far.”

Hellman said at this point he is just waiting for spring, so he can fish once it thaws.

“This has been the worst winter I can remember, as long as I’ve been around,” said Hellman, “And I’m 62, and I’ve been fishing since I was 2 years old.”

Free fishing weekend for Michigan begins on Feb. 15. Some people are concerned the lack of ice could jeopardize festivities.

RELATED: Ice fishers head to Muskegon Lake for Michigan's free fishing weekend

Johnson has one final suggestion for who he calls daredevils, hitting the water in these conditions.

“Buy an ice flotation suit,” said Johnson, “They are awesome. We had a rescue out here, he went through the ice with a float suit on. He was in there for about 45 minutes. They are going to save your life.”

RELATED: Fisherman rescued after falling through ice on Twin Lakes

RELATED: 3 snowmobiles, 1 truck fall through thin ice in Northern Michigan

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