By Tom Watts, Macomb Daily Outdoors Writer May 01, 2003
Jimmy Lewandowski opened his quirky Lake St. Clair bait shop each morning before sunrise and waited until the moon was high before retiring for the evening.
He arrived in America aboard the Queen Mary with just one year behind him and a half century later he put smiles on the faces of each fisherman, woman and child who eagerly anticipated a trip to Jimmy's Boat Livery before a day fishing on Lake St. Clair.
For many, a chance to experience fishing the old fashion way was as important as catching the fish. At Jimmy's Boat Livery, the experience was always once-in-a-lifetime.
Because Jimmy Lewandowski was a Lake St. Clair original -- he loved the lake as much as anyone --anglers fortunate enough to have been graced by his presence know he was all about 'you' having fun.
Jimmy had a flair for getting novice anglers equipped with the tools necessary to create memories. He started with passion and mixed it with humble fortitude.
Each morning, tubs full of minnows and nightcrawlers for sure, Jimmy offered his customers an assortment of fresh bait and locally-made jigs, spinnerbaits and crawler harnesses that would put any big time retail name to shame.
After all, Jimmy's Boat Livery is still home to the only business in the Great Lakes basin that offers a 14-foot aluminum fishing boat with a 9 horsepower Johnson engine, gas, rod, reel and bait for $40.
"You can take my boats anywhere in the world," Jimmy would say, "but just have them back at sunset."
After a return trip back to Jimmy's Boat Livery with a limit of walleye, bass, perch, or nothing at all, the talk at the 'round table' was juicy by any standards. The topic always the same: fishing.
By day's end, conversations generated at the 'round table' were most always historic in proportions - much like the many fish tales.
What sets Jimmy's Boat Livery apart from all the other bait stores and fishing shops in Michigan is its personality. Located on Jefferson Ave. in Harrison Township about 1/2-mile south of Metropolitan Parkway, the livery is a museum of fishing lore on Lake St. Clair.
The walls inside Jimmy's Boat Livery are dotted with historic fishing memorabilia dating back to the 1930s when the building was first owned by John Supple (1930-45). Since then, owners of the building have included Mac Beth (1945-60); Bill Weaver (1960-80); Tom Hannon (1980-85); Ken Sherrille (1985-95); and Lewandowski (1995-2003).
Jimmy opened his business in 1995 and preserved the character of the buildings nostalgiac past. There is a sign that reads, "Have A Crappie Day" and an exotic bird, "Joe." It wasn't long before the likes of Ted Nugent and Fred Trost made their way to Jimmy's, along with a long list of professional athletes, local celebrities, community leaders and novice anglers.
Still, it was the kids that liked Jimmy's the most. The bait shop sits in a unique location off a bridge on the Vander DeBuff Drain, which flows nicely (at least it used to) into Lake St. Clair. It is a one-of-a-kind bait shop that cannot be matched in the industry.
About a quarter-mile straight out from Jimmy's Boat Livery on Lake St. Clair and anglers are greeted with a bounty of freshwater fish that is unmatched on the Great Lakes. You name it, you can catch it with a nightcrawler. Stories of taking in 10 different species of fish in one day is commonplace on L'Anse Creuse Bay.
Jimmy was proud of the fishery he chose to make his home. He would take Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving off, but stayed open the rest of the way.
Each year he made famous the people who fished the perch, sheepshead and doe contests he ran each year. Or the annual VIP bash, which stands for Very Important People.
Jimmy Lewandowski was 57 years old hen he died suddenly on April 3. He leaves behind a legacy of creating memories for generations of fishermen, women and children -- his place in Lake St. Clair history secure.
Jimmy's Boat Livery, 37934 Jefferson, is open for business. Call Jimmy's wife, Wendy Lewandowski, at (586) 468-6000.