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Archive | Outdoors

19th Century Observations


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

In the late 1800’s, Henry Fabre made detailed observations in nature niches that required months and sometimes years. Detailed observation records allowed more accurate conclusions than those made with too little data or observation. Hasty conclusions are what we want but it is not how science works.

We expect instant gratification. On TV, crimes are solved in an hour; but in real time, they may take years for evidence collection, testing and prosecution.

Fabre made observations on dung beetles. Watching the beetle bury animal dung clarified one of nature’s methods for recycling nutrients in pastures. He identified the importance for having dung beetles in our pastures. In their absence, dried dung remained on the surface landscape. It prevented nutrient use by plants in pastures. Nutrients eventually were lost when washed into streams and water bodies, where they became a pollutant. We in turn added fertilizers to fields to replenish lost nutrients.

Those were not his intentions or even his conclusions. Others learned from his studies. He was simply trying to understand the life of dung beetles, which to many seemed like a non-productive activity. He unintentionally built a case 150 years ago for protecting biodiversity in yards, farms, and countryside. Aside from describing how the beetles were important for nutrient recycling, he learned the beetles were better weather forecasters than people.

He summarized months of tedious observation of dung beetles as follows:

First he noted the beetles were actively fussing about in cages with impatience for nocturnal tasks of burying dung to provide buried food for a new generation. Following a good weather day came another good weather day. The beetle activity did not prove that good weather was coming the following day.

Second conclusion. Days with fine weather that appeared to Fabre would be followed by good weather, were perceived differently by the beetles. The beetles did not come out and it rained during the night and part of the next morning.

The third observation was when the sky was overcast and appeared to foretell coming rain. The beetles were instead flying about with high activity in the cages. The apparent building storm passed without precipitation. Days following such behavior patterns demonstrated good weather.

After three months of observation, Fabre had repeatedly verified that the beetle activity could be used to accurately predict the next day’s weather better than he or weather forecasters.

The twilight activity of the beetles demonstrated they were living barometers that were more accurate than scientists of the time for weather prediction. He concluded, “The exquisite sensitiveness of life is mightier than the brute weight of a column of mercury.”

Most of us make quick observations on a wide variety of things and think we have made accurate conclusions. Unfortunately, science is not able to make rapid accurate conclusions without repeated experiments that often required months, years, or decades. Evidence for things like human-caused climate change has been predicted for over a 100 years. Scientists have been warning of the long term dangers human-caused climate change poses for coming generations.

Last year one senator brought a snowball to show Congress proof that the planet is not warming. Many chose to believe him. He does not understand the difference in climate and weather research. What we want to believe often takes precedence over long term evidence for what is really occurring in nature.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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First bull experience

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A visit to Uncle Al’s farm when I was seven gave me a first close encounter with a bull. Uncle Al was actually my dad’s uncle. While my dad and he visited or did whatever adults do, we were sent to a harvested cornfield to salvage corn the machine missed. Following that chore, we headed to the barn to put hay in cow feeding troughs. When our work was finished we got to play.

We decided to jump from the loft into a large pile of hay. That all sounded simple but I had a big, fearful challenge. When we entered the barn, it was necessary to walk past the cows to get to the hayloft ladder. In the first stall was a bull with a metal ring in its nose. I was ok walking past cows but I feared the bull would kick me for sure. He was looking over his shoulder at me.

He was surely planning how to take me out if I tried to walk past him. My older brothers and other great-nephews passed without incident. It was still too frightening for me. When I heard others having fun, I needed to build courage to risk my life by racing past the bull to join the others.

I had seen matadors on TV with a bull attacking and one matador was gored. Bulls are to be feared. My brothers and the others survived passing the bull so I darted past without incident.  My fear was unfounded. With more farm experience by age 7, I would not have hesitated walking past the bull.

As director at Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), I greeted student groups. Some groups came with wild nature experience. Others came from the city and had no experience in the woods. Some students had parents and grandparent that took them to parks, national forests, or wild natural areas.

For those that had never been exposed to wild nature niches there was great fear. I was asked if they would be attacked by tigers. Their knowledge of Michigan wild animals was a misconception. They only knew nature from TV. Like my farm experience, their visit to a nature center provided a new and unknown experience.

I did not fear going to a farm and the trip was filled with wonderful excitement until I encountered a bull. I wonder if students that had never been in wild areas were sick with fear as the bus traveled from school to nature center. The bus left the city, traveled to the north woods through the Rogue River State Game Area and finally stopped in the desolate wooded parking area at HCNC.

Unfounded fears are real and we all have them. I am comfortable backpacking in remote wilderness areas where mountain lions and wolves are present. I know elk are more dangerous and kill more people. I have greater fear for unsavory people in large cities than I do for large predators in the wild.

Our daughter used to pick up stones and fill her cheeks like a chipmunk when she was two. When we noticed bulging checks on our hikes, we would say give mommy or daddy the stones and she would spit out a mouthful. We figured stones in the mouth would build her immune system. Others feared disease or choking but gumballs were ok for their kids. We just called her our little geologist.

As adults, it is important that we provide diverse experiences for coming generations. Wild areas are shrinking and becoming more foreign to youth. Knowledge is often dominated by TV exposure and it often shows risky, dangerous encounters instead of normal reality.

Take kids to the Howard Christensen Nature Center, 16190 Red Pine Drive, Kent City, MI 49330 for a wonderful positive nature encounter. Leave your own fears behind.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Weekly fishing tip


Using spawn to catch steelhead

From the Michigan DNR

Steelhead, a migratory strain of rainbow trout, are considered one of Michigan’s premier game fish and are exciting to catch on conventional fishing tackle. Reaching weights of 15 pounds or more, these fish ascend Great Lakes’ tributaries in the fall each year beginning in late September and continuing through December.

A popular method of fishing for steelhead involves using spawn bags for bait, as spawn (loose eggs from other fish species) is a natural food item for them. Spawn bags placed on a hook can be casted and drifted through runs and holes in rivers or below barriers or dams where migratory steelhead are congregated.

Knowing how to “read” a river is key to finding the spots where steelhead are. Anglers fishing from a boat also can anchor in the river and cast their line out behind the boat, letting the spawn bag sit in the current as steelhead move upstream.

Anglers can either tie their own spawn bags by placing loose salmon eggs into brightly colored netting material (sold in most bait stores) and cinching them closed with thread, or they can purchase spawn bags that are already tied and preserved in liquid.

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Be an ethical hunter: buy a license before you go out 

OUT-deerAnd don’t loan kill tags

From the Michigan DNR

Conservation officers with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources urge deer hunters to engage in an ethical hunt: buy a license before going out and don’t loan kill tags.

Every deer hunting season, DNR conservation officers encounter individuals engaged in unethical hunting practices and tackle many cases of individuals buying a hunting license after harvesting a deer or loaning kill tags to a friend or relative.

“Each year, we see cases of individuals waiting to buy licenses until after they have shot a deer,” said Dean Molnar, assistant chief of the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division. “We remind all hunters that you must buy your license before you go out to hunt and have it in your possession when afield. Buying a license is not only the ethical and responsible thing to do, it is the law. Harvesting a deer without a license is poaching.”

Deer poaching in Michigan carries a restitution payment of $1,000 per deer, a $200 to $1,000 fine and jail time up to 90 days. In addition, a violator’s hunting privileges are suspended for three years. Under the new law that took effect last year, antlered deer are assessed an additional $1,000 in restitution plus the standard $1,000 for illegally killing any deer. In addition, deer with eight points but not more than 10 are $500 a point, while deer with 11 points or more are assessed a penalty of $750 per point.

Additional years of hunting privileges will be revoked for violators, depending on the number of points on the illegally harvested deer. Michigan also participates in the Wildlife Violator Compact, which includes hunting revocation in participating states.

Another unethical practice encountered frequently each hunting season in Michigan is the loaning of kill tags to an unlicensed individual who has harvested a deer.

“Loaning kill tags is among the top violations we see while on patrol, and is often done for friends or relatives who are from out of state to avoid paying the nonresident license fee,” said Molnar. “Kill tags must be validated and attached immediately to your harvested deer and visible for inspection. It is unlawful to loan out or borrow kill tags.”

For more information on deer hunting in Michigan, go to www.michigan.gov/deer.

To report a natural resource violation, please call the Report all Poaching hotline at 800-292-7800. Learn more at www.michigan.gov/rap.

Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve. To learn more about the work of conservation officers, visit www.michigan.gov/conservationofficer.

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New fishing regulations for Sand Lake

If you fish for Northern Pike in Sand Lake or another area lake, you will want to read about the new limits. There are also limits on walleye and muskellunge in Michigan lakes. The northern pike pictured above was caught in 2011 in Lime Lake, in Solon Township, by Richard Virkstis, of Walker. The fish was 44.5 inches long.

If you fish for Northern Pike in Sand Lake or another area lake, you will want to read about the new limits. There are also limits on walleye and muskellunge in Michigan lakes. The northern pike pictured above was caught in 2011 in Lime Lake, in Solon Township, by Richard Virkstis, of Walker. The fish was 44.5 inches long.

And other waters

Sand Lake, in Montcalm County, is one of the waters in Michigan that now has new fishing regulations after a recent Michigan Natural Resources Commission meeting.

The MNRC approved several fishing regulations last week at its regular meeting in Lansing. All regulations immediately went into effect and will remain in effect for the 2016 fishing season (which begins April 1).

All of the changes are highlighted below and also will be reflected shortly in the online version of the 2015 Michigan Fishing Guide, available at michigan.gov/fishingguide. These regulation changes are part of Fisheries Order 206.

Sand Lake (Montcalm County)

Sand Lake has been added to the list of waters with a 24- to 34-inch protective slot limit and daily possession limit of two (2) northern pike. This means northern pike measuring below 24 inches and greater than 34inches may be kept. Northern pike within the protected slot limit must immediately be released.

Waters with Northern Pike Daily Possession Limit of Five (5)

The following waters have been added to the list of waters where up to five (5) northern pike may be retained in the daily possession limit with only one (1) allowed greater than 24 inches:

Paradise (Carp) Lake (Cheboygan and Emmet counties)

Pickerel Lake (Newaygo County)

Kimball Lake (Newaygo County)

Emerald Lake (Newaygo County)

Sylvan Lake (Newaygo County)

Susan Lake (Charlevoix County)

Orchard Lake (Presque Isle County)

Lake Lavine (Branch County)

Lake Lavine is managed as a trout lake but also has a northern pike population. The commission removed the minimum size limit and possession limit so anglers can help remove northern pike from this water body to improve trout populations.

Walleye Regulations on Ontonagon River

Walleye regulations for the Ontonagon River (Ontonagon County) have become more restrictive as only one (1) walleye in the daily possession limit may be possessed greater than 25 inches.

Lake Gogebic Walleye Size Limit

A modification to the minimum size limit for walleye on Lake Gogebic (Gogebic and Ontonagon counties) now allows anglers to possess up to two (2) walleye measuring 13 to 15 inches as part of the daily possession limit of five (5) walleye. The minimum size limit for walleye remains at 15 inches otherwise.

Tahquamenon River Muskellunge Size Limit

The minimum size limit for muskellunge on the Tahquamenon River and tributaries (upstream from Upper Falls) in Luce County has been reduced to 38 inches. Anglers are reminded that a muskellunge harvest tag still is required and allows an angler to harvest one muskellunge in Michigan waters per fishing season (April 1 – March 31). The harvest tag is available at all license vendors.

There have been several regulation changes this year that do not show up in the printed version of the 2015 Michigan Fishing Guide (found at all major retailers). Anglers are encouraged to check the online version found at michigan.gov/fishingguide for the most up-to-date regulatory information.

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We all hunt differently


By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Some of us hunt at farmer’s markets for produce, others seek nurseries to buy plants to grow, harvest and eat, others seek wild edibles. We harvest, kill, and eat both plants and animals. Presently many men and women are seeking wild, edible, deer during archery, rifle, and muzzle loading seasons.

Understanding the dynamics of healthy nature niches is elusive. Nature is more complex than the simplicity of computer technology or national energy grids. Applied technology keeps our communication, businesses, homes, and daily lives functioning, while nature works on a grander scale keeping our communities thriving.

Deer hunting impacts the health of nature niches. Too many deer result in reduction of important species. Habitats suffer when too many deer eliminate wild food that animals require to keep nature healthy. Wildflower over browsing by deer leads to a decline of insects, birds and other animals. In turn this prevents effective pollination and reproduction for many plants. Some people want more deer to hunt or see without concern regarding the impact on other species or ecosystems.

How do scientists gather evidence for proof of what makes habitats healthy? They hunt for plants, insects, birds, mammals, and every other kind of living creature using strict scientific research protocols. It is a different kind of hunting. Great value comes from watching plants and animals and recording detailed observations, but collection is sometimes essential and regulated.

The increase of citizen science observations has become extremely important. Additionally, scientists need some plant and animal collecting. Deer check stations allow wildlife biologists to gather information, with the aid of citizen science deer hunters.

Most of us kill hundreds of thousands of insects annually with our vehicles with no value to science or benefit for understanding how nature works. Many deer are killed on the road without salvage. One was killed on the road this week at Ody Brook. Road killed butterflies, bees, beetles, dragonflies, squirrels and birds are common.

Scientists collect a minuscule number of bees, butterflies, flies, beetles, and other species to determine the composition of ecosystems. It is takes decades of collecting species with ongoing analysis to understand ecosystem dynamics. The role of an organism is known as its niche. Every organism has a unique niche and we know very little about most species.

We deduce much by studying body structures and even by gathering pollen from their bodies. Knowing which animal does what, when and where, requires good collecting samples and data recording. The number of organisms removed by scientists from habitats is so small it barely registers as a percentage when compared to how many each of us kill with vehicles, pesticides, herbicides, and more importantly habitat destruction where native plants are replaced with lawns. Lawns are ecological deserts. In effect lawns are a hunting tool that kills wildlife without useful value much like hitting animals with a car. It is a form of hunting more deadly than a car or rifle because it kills whole communities instead of removing selected individuals. I did not eliminate lawn at Ody Brook but reduced its size by about 70% when when I moved here.

Some people oppose controlling deer numbers. These same people do not mourn the loss of thousands of species (mostly beneficial insects) and millions or billions of individuals when land is converted to lawns. Ecological stewardship becomes more important as our human population grows out of control.

Earth care are as part of religious, social, economic and ecological wellbeing is responsible stewardship. Consider your daily activities as a different way of hunting with impact on species. How many plants and animals does your yard enhance or kill? Healthy yards and ecosystems depend on personal choices.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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DNR seeks denned bears in northern Lower Peninsula

Michigan DNR wildlife biologist Mark Boersen is shown here working with a radio-collared bear. The DNR is asking hunters, trappers and others in the woods this season to keep an eye out for denned bears; that information will help the department with important bear research.

Michigan DNR wildlife biologist Mark Boersen is shown here working with a radio-collared bear. The DNR is asking hunters, trappers and others in the woods this season to keep an eye out for denned bears; that information will help the department with important bear research.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is looking for denned bear locations in the northern Lower Peninsula, and is asking those who come across a denned black bear during their hunting, trapping or other outdoor adventures to let the DNR know. Additional black bears, to be fitted with radio collars, are needed for an ongoing bear research project.

“Information gathered from bears assists in managing the black bear population,” said Mark Boersen, DNR wildlife biologist at the Roscommon Customer Service Center. “Currently, we have four female bears being monitored from both air and ground using radio-tracking equipment.”

After a denned bear is located, DNR biologists will determine if the animal is a good candidate for radio-collaring. Bears that are selected will be sedated by a wildlife biologist and fitted with a radio-tracking collar and ear tags. Hair samples will be taken for DNA analysis, and a small, nonfunctional tooth will be collected to determine the bear’s age. Upon completion of the short procedure, biologists will carefully return the bear to its den, where it will spend the remainder of the winter months.

People who encounter bear dens are asked to record the location, with a GPS unit if possible, and contact Mark Boersen at 989-275-5151 or boersenm@michigan.gov to provide specific location information. The DNR reminds everyone that it is illegal to disturb a bear den or disturb, harm or molest a bear in its den.

Learn more about radio telemetry and other wildlife research projects by visitingmi.gov/wildlife and clicking on “Wild Science.”

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Dying Pines

This photo shows normal fall needle drop in a white pine tree. Photo from purdue.edu.

This photo shows normal fall needle drop in a white pine tree. Photo from purdue.edu.

By Ranger Steve Mueller


During fall, people notice pine trees dying. They become concerned about what unexpected fungal blight or insect infestation is killing trees. Events occur in our neighborhoods that generally escape notice and then suddenly capture our attention.

Broad-leaved trees like maples, cherries, and aspens drop their leaves each fall and stand naked all winter in wait for the spring growing season. Losing leaves helps them avoid structural damage that would occur from the weight of snow or ice that would get caught on leaves during the winter. The weight would snap branches. If the trees maintain their large leaves during winter, they would fail. Frozen water in leaves would burst cell membranes causing leaves to die.

In our yards and in wild places over yonder during fall, one is likely to see massive brown needles on pines. This is very noticeable for our State Tree, the White Pine. People contact me inquiring what is wrong that trees are dying. In most cases I reassure nothing is wrong and the trees are healthy. It is normal for needles that are three years old to die. Younger needles closer to the branch tip remain green and healthy.

The older needles away from the tip wear out from old age. They are also tucked farther back into the tree instead of being more exposed to sunlight. Look at pine branches to notice the brown needles are clustered away from the branch tip. Closer to the tree trunk notice that there are no needles. In previous years the bare branch held needles. Each year as the branch extends new growth with fresh needles, old needles die at the inner portion during fall.

A layer of needles builds annually under pines, where pine pitch helps prevent their decay. Usually a thick duff of pine needles is found under the trees in wild nature niches. Yard needles are often removed.

How is it that pine needles avoid frost damage that would kill broad-leaved tree foliage? One advantage is pine pitch helps prevent frost damage by lowering the freezing temperature like antifreeze. Needles also contain sugar that functions like antifreeze. That only works to a limited point and then water in the cells would freeze and burst cell membranes causing the needles to be killed.

To survive very cold weather, water must be mostly removed from the needles. Trees transport water from needles and branches to roots in a similar manner to broad-leaved trees where sugar and nutrients are stored. Living needles that did not turn brown in fall cling to life throughout the winter but are mostly dormant.

During a warm sunny spell in midwinter, green needles are warmed and become active. This is dangerous for the needles and tree. The needles produce sugar by photosynthesis where they combine carbon dioxide and water in the presence of sunlight energy.

The winter needles contain little water and that helps prevent frost damage. Unfortunately, using the limited amount of water can dehydrate the needle to the point of death during photosynthesis. The trees are unable to ship needed water from the cold ground unless the soil temperature is above 40 F. The needles in warm air and sunlight make the effort to produce sugar but instead die from lack of water for completing the process.

What were healthy needles in late fall become victims of “winter burn.” The winter burn might only affect some needles on the tree but some years I have seen entire trees “burned” to the point that it causes tree death. Living is not easy but brown needles on pines in fall is usually not a sign of stress or tree death.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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World heroes

Ancestral perennial corn.

Ancestral perennial corn.

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Honey Bees and native insect pollinators keep food on our tables. Our society would crumble without insect pollinators that keep flowering plants thriving. Pollinators are real heroes that we should honor, respect, and care for by how we treat yards, farms, forest, and fields. If you ask people who they owe their health, wealth, and security to, I expect most would not reply “insects.”

Perhaps this is because the importance of ecological sustainability is not integrated into child upbringing by parents and is marginalized in school education by political forces and narrow subject focus. Ecological literacy is integral for maintaining sustainable economic, industrial, and societal community success. That was my focus as director at the Howard Christensen Nature Center and Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center’s cross curriculum instruction. Our survival is dependent on keeping essential workers like insects on the job.

As nice as it is to recognize the work of people we depend on, other life forms are equal or more essential. To help develop appreciation for life in our neighborhoods, Nature Niche articles highlight creatures with whom we share Earth. However, this week I would like to recognize a human world hero with whom I have had limited personal experience.

I met with Dr. Hugh Iltis at the University of Wisconsin when I was deciding a career path for graduate school. I was considering botanical studies with him as my advisor. Hugh had recently become aware of a perennial corn in Mexico, and he and his colleagues named the ancestral perennial corn Zea diploperennis.

What makes Dr. Iltis a world hero is his recognition for the importance of an unknown plant that is restricted to a few square miles on planet Earth and his efforts to preserve it. It is a true grass related to Zea mays, our domestic edible corn. Mexican and Nicaraguan governments have taken action to preserve these plants. Why?

It has potential for use in breeding insect resistance, perennialism, and flood tolerance into domestic corn. Can you imagine if farmers no longer needed to plant corn annually because it sprouted annually on it own? If we can breed domestic corn or genetically modify it to become perennial, it would have significant impacts for agricultural economics.

What if we could breed it or genetically splice insect resistance from ancestral corn back into corn that was lost during domestication 10,000 years ago? We could perhaps reduce human dependence on insecticides that pose dangerous health concerns for our families and other life forms.

The tolerance of Zea diploperennis to floods could possibly increase domestic corn survival if its genes were incorporated to help it survive when corn fields flood and soils become water logged.

Wild corn was thought extinct at the time this ancestral corn was discovered. Many people and perhaps most on Earth do not recognize the importance and need to preserve species in our neighborhoods. Their importance and value will be lost to us and future generations if we do not honor, respect, and care for the health, wealth, and security that other species provide in ecosystems that support us.

I did not take the road to study plants under Dr. Iltis’s direction. Instead, I chose graduate study in entomology and ecology, with a subsequent career in environmental education. I focused energies toward environmental stewardship essential for sustaining society and life on Earth, by following Dr. Iltis’ lead and that of other heroes that help sustain society. Hail Hero to Dr. Iltis, who is now 90.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Weekly fishing tip



Lake whitefish not just for commercial anglers

From the Michigan DNR

Although extremely important to Great Lakes commercial fishers, lake whitefish are becoming more and more popular with recreational anglers throughout Michigan. But you really have to know how to catch this delicious species!

The lake whitefish has a small, exceedingly delicate mouth and is confined to dining on insects, freshwater shrimp, small fish and fish eggs, and bottom organisms. Most feeding takes place on or near lake-bottoms. Keep that in mind when selecting your bait.

If you’re interested in staying inland and looking for lake whitefish, stick with deep, clear-water lakes. If you’re interested in heading to the Great Lakes, they can most often be found in deep water, either on or near the bottom.

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