More Than 100 Anglers Stuck on Lake Erie Island of Put-in-Bay

A rescue tugboat

Being stuck on the island of Put-in-Bay for 10 days doesn't sounds so bad — unless it's the middle of winter. But that's exactly what happened to more than 100 ice fishermen, who just recently made their way home with the help of Jake Dunfee and his Marblehead, Ohio-based Rescue Marine, as well as some locals who volunteered to help.

But let's back up a step and tell this story the right way.

The ice cover got a slow start on Lake Erie this year. As of mid-January, there was zero ice on the lake — and a lot of angers were getting itchy. 

Happily, a cold snap began a quick freeze and, within a week or so, ice cover was nearing normal averages.

Local anglers saw their opportunity in the ice around the Bass Islands, including Put-in-Bay. The Miller Ferry was already shut down for the season, but it only cost about $50 to fly over on Griffing Flying Service or via the Island Air Taxi. For a day of winter's best fun, it was worth it.

Enter Mother Nature. She thought it'd be fun to follow a freeze with almost balmy temperatures. The ice started to melt as fast as it had frozen, but that wasn't the biggest problem.

When it’s mild and the lake is close to freezing, that creates optimal conditions for fog," says Dunfee, the owner of Rescue Marine. And when it's foggy, the local airplanes can't fly.

"It’s been over three decades since we’ve had this long of a stretch of time where planes were unable to fly due to fog," says Julene Market of Miller Ferries, adding that her boats were all locked in by ice or they would have helped.

Meanwhile, Dunfee says that, "a lot of islanders left for the weekend to go see family or whatever. And they were stuck, too.

"It kind of got everyone trapped on the wrong side," Dunfee says. "I think there were people out of whack from last Friday till today."

As soon as he was able, Dunfee used his rescue tugboat to get everybody to the right place. But many fishermen spent more than a week on the island of Put-in-Bay, with only the clothes on their back.

If the ice had held, they would have gone fishing, of course. "They had nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs," says Chontel Shaffer, who owns Island Air Taxi with her husband, Dustin. Thankfully, Topys Turveys Bar and Grill is open all winter.

There were also a handful of islanders, Shaffer reports, who were scheduled to take big trips to places like Hawaii, Mexico and England who got stuck — and missed their flights.

The take home from all this? Some people really love ice fishing.