Man helps another ice fisherman who fell into lake

Muskegon County

FRUITPORT TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A man is recovering Monday after falling through ice while fishing Sunday afternoon in a Spring Lake bayou at Pomona Park in Fruitport Township.

Another fisherman who happened to see him fall though attempted to help, but also fell into the lake.

John Meekhof, the man who tried to help the initial victim, has fished Spring Lake’s many bayous every day for nearly a year. It’s a passion — an addiction he says may have saved a life. 

“Who knows what would have happened if I wasn’t there, you know, maybe he would’ve been OK, maybe he wouldn’t have,” Meekhof said. “I’ve always heard people say, ‘what’s these idiots doing out there on this thin ice?’ But you know, I heard a little saying the other day about ice fishing — when you feel the tug, you get the bug, and so it is kind of addicting.”

Around noon, Meekhof had already been fishing for an hour or so when he noticed another man walking out onto the ice nearby. 

“He didn’t have a spud, he wasn’t checking the thickness of the ice,” Meekhof said. “Then he fell. And he’s laying on the ground, writhing and moving around. I thought, maybe he fell through? Then I knew there was something wrong because he was still on the ground, so I thought maybe he’s having a heart attack or something, so I started running over.”

A spud is simply a large metal stake that ice fisherman use to measure the thickness of ice by stabbing it into the frozen layer repeatedly.

“If it breaks through, so will you,” owner of Fish On Bait & Tackle shop, Cory Melvin said. “People are wanting to go out on a little thinner ice (more) than they normally would because they haven’t gotten to fish since they put their boats away and people have been really itching to get out there and go. That’s not necessarily the smartest nor the safest idea.”

Without even knowing his name and without hesitation, Meekhof sprinted over to the struggling ice fisherman and before he knew it, they both were trapped in a 10-foot column of nearly frozen water. 

“The ice kept breaking and breaking, so we just decided to settle down and wait. The adrenaline was pumping,” Meekhof said. “I told him to just settle down and wait. ‘You’re gonna be OK’ I said.”

Meanwhile, Meekhof called out to a group sledding nearby to call 911. Within five minutes, crews arrived to help. 

“Before all that happened, he kind of wanted me to let go of him. I said ‘I’m not letting go. There’s no way. I’m not letting go,’” Meekof said. “I’ll go down with you first because I couldn’t live with myself if something happened and he went under and I was right there.”

Fruitport Township police and fire crews quickly made contact with the pair and brought them both to safety. Meekhof was fine. His new friend had to be taken to a nearby hospital. 

Crews rescuing ice fishermen in Fruitport Township. (Feb. 16, 2020)

“I sure hope he’s OK,” Meekhof said. “Again, I’m not trying to make myself out something. It was just something you gotta do. I mean, if I was out there, I’d want somebody to try to help me, so that’s what I did. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.”

Authorities say no ice is safe ice, but areas like Pomona Park are especially dangerous, given their proximity to nearby creeks. The creeks supply the lake with warmer, flowing water beneath the ice, which can make things dicey. 

“I tell everyone who comes in here looking to ice fish the same things,” Melvin said. “’Carry a rope, carry a spud and don’t go out there by yourself. If you do, make sure to tell someone where you are and when you plan to return.’”

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