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Icicles on the Tiki Bar -- Winter on a Great Lakes Island

During the summer, The Flyin Jays play around 85 shows all over the “Bay” – Put-in-Bay.  The three-piece band plays at tiki bar Mojito Bay, the Beer Barrel, and Tippers, the island’s place for fine dining.

But right now, most places are closed.  It’s winter, and things on the Bay have slowed down.  Flyin Jays frontman Jamison Charles likes it that way.

“It’s slower, it’s kind of quaint. It’s a time to enjoy the beauty of the island,” said Charles.

Ice fishing shanties sit on Lake Erie in 2011 [Caroline Conrad]

So when Charles and his band play their “island-style Americana” music in the off season it’s mostly on the mainland.  But as his working season on the island slows down, Dustin Shaffer’s picks up.

“It’s pretty much like a light switch,” explained Shaffer.  “As soon as boats start, I don’t do much flying but in the winter it’s just back and forth nonstop.”

Shaffer operates Island Air Taxi , a fleet of two airplanes that make 20-30 trips off the island per day in the winter.  He lives at Put-in-Bay year round – and since moving here five years ago, he’s made his services essential to the community. 

“It’s a niche market, but it’s helping your friends out and then making money at the same time and doing something you love,” said Shaffer.  “It’s kind of a win-win.”

Shaffer has hauled a lot of different passengers and cargo: school students, teachers, groceries, his pregnant wife, even pizza.

“I’ll post on Facebook for pizza delivery, and we have a pizza day and I’ll bring over a plane full of pizzas,” he said.  “We’re working up 'Sushi Saturdays' coming up one of these days.”

Usually, Shaffer and other airplane services are a lifeline to islanders – the only way to get to a mall or a doctor's appointment.  This year it’s been a little different.

Ferry service between the island and Port Clinton, Ohio, ended once it got cold. But with such a mild winter, there has been little ice so the ferry’s opened back up several times.

The mild winter has also hurt Put-in-Bay’s ice fishing business – by tourists and locals.

"We get all dressed up with our snowsuits and go out on our four-wheelers, pull our shanties out with the four-wheelers.  Then we set them, we drill the holes, and set the shanties on top of the holes.”

Dustin Shaffer delivers pizza to the island in December [Dustin Shaffer]

Meet Theresa Finney – year-round islander, summer bartender, and ice fisher. 

“I just like reeling that big fish in,” she said. “It’s just the thrill of catching it, and stabbing it with my gaff, and getting it through the ice hole. and eating it.”

Finney and her husband moved to the island 18 years ago.  Ice fishing convinced her husband to make the move.

“Some friends of mine invited him to come up and go ice fishing, and once he did that, he decided – we’re buying a house here, we’re going to live here,” said Finney.

Finney is crossing her fingers, hoping for just one day of good ice for fishing.  “I’ve been out in March – ice fishing, so I got faith,” said Finney.

Instead of ice fishing, Finney and her husband go to Darts League, a lively Friday night scene where islanders show off their competitive side.  There are other get-togethers: poker nights, shuffleboard, school basketball games, and an annual bonfire to “Please the Ice Gods”.

Islanders bring Christmas trees to an ice ramp to mark a safe path for ice fishing [Caroline Conrad]

For musician Jamison Charles, daily life on the island provides constant inspiration for his music.

“A lot of times an artist will go to a different environment to get into the writing mood,” said Charles.  “I just live here, so I get to see something unique every day.”

On one of those unique days a couple of years ago, Charles was walking around downtown Put-in-Bay, looking at vacant Mojito Bay.  “There were six-foot icicles hanging from a tiki hut,” explained Charles.

And he wrote a song about it - “Icicles at the Tiki Bar”. 

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