Angling business prepped for first big freeze

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published December 26, 2015


HARRISON TOWNSHIP — Just in time for the ice fishing season, a popular Harrison Township angling company has opened its doors at a new, and much larger, home.

Sportsmen’s Direct, previously located near Velger Boat Harbor on the township’s southeast side, is now operating out of the former Boater’s World building on Jefferson Avenue, adjacent to Lake St. Clair Metropark.

Owners John and Beth Bacarella, of Clinton Township, are now in their fifth year in business in the area, selling everything fishing related, from rods, reels, bait and tackle to ice shanties, augers, hunting gear and clothing.

They officially opened to the public on Nov. 13 and held their grand opening Nov. 29.

“We opened at the right time because ice fishing has always been much more popular than open-water fishing,” said John Bacarella. “We’re much busier during the ice fishing season.”

Locally, that average 10-week season, the time when temperatures dip low enough to freeze the inland areas of Lake St. Clair and the Clinton River, traditionally runs from the start of January to mid-March.

And Bacarella knows a thing or two about ice fishing.

The 50-year-old competed on the professional level for more than a decade on the North American Ice Fishing Circuit, and today he uses the knowledge he gained and his passion for the sport by helping others successfully enjoy their time on the ice.

“I’m a very competitive person, so doing this, running this business, it helps me channel my energy,” said Bacarella. “I really like seeing and being a part of the industry.”

One of the major perks is being asked by big manufacturers to review their newest products before they are released to the public.

Beth Bacarella said that’s what sets them apart from other “mom and pop” bait and tackle shops.

“We’re known in the industry for being on the cutting edge of both ice and open-water fishing,” she said. “People come in and ask, ‘What’s new?’ because we’ll always have the newest products.”

They even carry John Bacarella and his friend Phil Morse’s own patented design, a sonic ice hopper bracket for mounting sonar electronics. Sonar cameras, which are optional when ice fishing, allow ice fishermen to see where the fish are below the ice.

“Ice fishing is so popular because it’s accessible to anyone; you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment,” said Bacarella. “Most ice fishermen are fishing for dinner; there’s not a whole lot of catch and release.”

On Lake St. Clair, the most sought-after big catch includes perch, bluegill, crappie, pumpkinseed sunfish and pike.

Sportsmen’s Direct was launched in 2009 as an online hunting and fishing retailer. The Bacarellas decided shortly after finding online success to open up a live store where they could interact with their customers face to face.

Beth Bacarella said business continued to grow, and they slowly moved away from the hunting aspect to strictly fishing, but soon started looking for space for more inventory.

Harrison Township Supervisor Ken Verkest said he recalls that when the Bacarellas opened their location near Velger, it was a mild winter with little freeze.

“I hope we get a little ice cover this winter for their sake and for the sake of the ice fishermen,” Verkest said. “We’re glad they decided to stay in Harrison Township.”

He also said he’s glad the former Boater’s World location has finally been improved and is being put to use. Verkest said the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been in negotiations for some time to create a new boat launch at Sportsmen’s former site and the marina. The DNR has three other sites in the township: at the end of South River Road, at the end of Hall Road and at the Clinton River cutoff, which Verkest said poses some problems due to there being a lack of shelter for boaters in the event of sudden severe weather when out on the lake, and the fact that there are a limited number of ramps. Additionally, because of its location, the launch area becomes overrun with large amounts of debris following a storm.

Since their move, the Bacarellas have already relaunched their free monthly fishing seminars, and they plan to get back into selling hunting gear.

Still, ice fishing will always be John Bacarella’s true love.

“I prefer ice fishing because it’s more exciting, it’s more personal, it’s more like hunting,” he said. “You can see the fish under the ice, swimming around the hook; you’re waiting for the next move. It’s me against him.”

Sportsmen’s Direct is located at 38989 Jefferson Ave. in Harrison Township. For more information, including hours of operation or about upcoming fishing seminars, call (586) 741-6052. More information can be found at