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Catfish state record broken for second time in less than two years


Niles, Mich., resident Dale Blakley reeled in a 52-pound flathead catfish on Barron Lake (Cass County) on Sunday, Jan. 12, setting a new state record. Photo courtesy of Michigan DNR.

Niles, Mich., resident Dale Blakley reeled in a 52-pound flathead catfish on Barron Lake (Cass County) on Sunday, Jan. 12, setting a new state record. Photo courtesy of Michigan DNR.

From the Michigan DNR


The catfish was caught by Dale Blakley of Niles, Mich., on Sunday, Jan. 12, on Barron Lake in Cass County at 3 p.m. The fish weighed 52 pounds and measured 46.02 inches. Blakley was ice fishing for crappies when he landed the record fish.

The record was verified by Brian Gunderman, a DNR fisheries biologist, at the Plainwell office. The previous state record flathead catfish was caught by Rodney Akey, of Niles, on the St. Joseph River, in Berrien County, on May 22, 2012. That fish weighed 49.8 pounds and measured 45.7 inches. Prior to that, the record hadn’t been broken since 1943.

“Catching this fish was the most exhilarating experience,” said Blakley. “It was only the second time I’ve ever gone ice fishing and it was the only bite we had on the lake the whole day. This definitely sits at the top of my list!”

It should be noted that flathead catfish typically inhabit large river systems, like the nearby St. Joseph River. Based on the size of this fish, it mysteriously found its way to Barron Lake several years ago, perhaps through illegal stocking, as there are no direct connections to a large river system. Anglers are reminded that transferring fish from one water body to another is prohibited because such transfers can disrupt the fish community in the receiving water through predation, competition with native species, or introduction of new disease-causing organisms.

State records are recognized by weight only. To qualify for a state record, fish must exceed the current listed state record weight and identification must be verified by a DNR fisheries biologist.

“We’ve had numerous state records broken in the last couple of years, further showcasing the quality of Michigan’s fisheries,” said DNR Fisheries Division Chief Jim Dexter. “We hope this latest catch encourages anglers to get out on the water in search of their own state record—or at least a great adventure!”

A video (produced by the Blakley family) of this state-record catch is available at

For more information on fishing in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/fishing.

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Not everyone goes south for the winter

For some, the Great Lakes are a winter destination

Did you know the Great Lakes have thousands of feathered friends floating out there right now? Have you ever wondered how duck, geese and swan populations are tracked?

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with many other states in the nation, estimate duck, geese and swan populations (waterfowl) by looking at areas that traditionally hold birds in January—the open water.

“Anytime Mother Nature causes wildlife to naturally group together, surveying can be much more efficient,” said DNR wildlife biologist Mark Monroe. “Looking for birds by truck or plane at the same time across the nation gives agencies a great feel for populations and habitat trends.”

From Jan. 5-11, DNR staff visited (either by plane or truck) the same areas that have been surveyed in the past, not just to count waterfowl but also to identify the species. Mallards were the most common duck observed, although many “diving ducks” or sea ducks—such as canvasbacks and redheads—were counted.

“I’ve been flying this survey in the northern Lower Peninsula for quite a few years,” said Monroe, “and I have seen thousands of ducks every year out in the open water; it’s really neat to see.”

The northern Lower Peninsula area was flown by plane. One DNR pilot and two DNR observers spent the day traveling over 750 miles, searching out large groups of waterfowl in water that still remains open. The Manistee River, Lake Michigan from Pentwater to the Sleeping Bear Dunes, the inlet at Elberta and the Grand Traverse Bay area are locations in Northern Michigan where large numbers of birds are traditionally found. The crew revisits other “hot spots” where they have found waterfowl populations in the past, conducting flyovers at elevations of 200 to 500 feet. The Great Lakes and large rivers hold thousands of ducks that will spend the winter here, either because they are resident birds and do not migrate or because they have migrated to the Great Lakes from farther north. That’s right—some waterfowl that breed near the Arctic will actually head south to the Great Lakes to winter!

“In the northern Lower Peninsula we counted just over 12,000 ducks, just under 100 geese and more than 300 mute swans,” said Monroe. “It’s amazing how many birds are out on the water that’s still open.”

Winter waterfowl surveys can help detect any significant changes in the populations as well as help determine results of recent waterfowl hunting seasons and help dictate further regulations for future seasons. The January waterfowl survey also provides the best information on the number of mute swans in Michigan so population trends can be established for yearly comparisons.

To learn more about the different wildlife surveys completed by the DNR, visit the Wildlife Surveys page on the DNR website or contact DNR wildlife outreach technician Katie Keen at 231-775-9727.

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Owl Relationships

By Ranger Steve Mueller


I wonder about the important relationships.

Sunday morning I stopped at Ody Brook’s road entrance where I saw a dead bird. At first I thought it was a Ruffed Grouse but quickly realized it was a gray phase Eastern Screech Owl. I drove to church.

During silent prayers I prayed for Greg and Cindi in regards to what is appearing to be a terminal cancer for Cindi. Then I prayed for the owl that lost its life and also for its family.

I received a call in January from a man that found a Great Horned Owl dead in the snow.  Upon retrieving the owl, he realized it died a strange death. The owl was flying close to the ground and flew into a grape vine. The vine branched into a V. The owl’s neck got caught and wedged in the V. The owl was hanging limply by the neck. The skin was ripped and the neck broken. I hoped the owl died instantly instead of hanging helplessly wedged by the neck.

Now that it is dead, I wonder about its mate and plans that were made. It is breeding season. Owl pairs have probably found some advantages and some disadvantages to the two plus feet of snow received. The snow surely affected hunting and daily routines. Males are catching prey to present to females. Nest selection and refurbishing has been underway. Territory boundaries have been claimed and posted with vigilant calls and patrols. We heard a Great Horned Owl begin hooting here this week.

What now? Was it the male or female that died? What emotional strain would envelop the remaining owl? January is a hard month without the loss of a mate.

Males offer food and females expect it. Females may have begun egg laying and should be sitting tight to nests waiting for mates to bring nourishment. The forest must sound empty without the nightly hoots of her mate.

Many think that only people experience emotional loss and associated loss of contributory sustenance when a spouse dies. In nature niches, many species help sustain mates, especially during the breeding season. When a mate suddenly disappears without a trace, the emotional strain must be great. No one notifies the family member of what happened. Emotional strain is a combination of chemical and nervous stimulation. Only in a few social species do others comfort and assist the grieving.

Personal survival demands the owl continue valiantly. For the owl, a lone female left to survive will probably continue but her eggs may not hatch. Exposure while she hunts might be too great and the embryos will likely never develop.

Life is hard with emotional traumas. When a bird’s nest is raided, an ant’s food taken, or a person’s body withers from disease, these organisms experience emotion. How we choose to interpret nervous and chemical changes and then define emotion is our choice.

Emotion may be quantified and even dismissed by some scientific standards for some organisms. Perceptive people will recognize what I call many realms of reality. Ants, owls, and people share experiences of living and emotion. We are all of the same DNA.  Our perceptions and emotions are different in degree with links dating back to the beginnings of life.

I wonder about the important relationships.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, Michigan 49319-8433.


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Icing Crooked Lake Bluegill with plastics

Dave Kellum deep in thought of a big gill.

Dave Kellum deep in thought of a big gill.

by Jack Payne

Crooked Lake has long been known as a lake that produces a lot of gills. It is fairly deep with many shallow weedy coves and bays. Excellent spawning grounds and feeding areas coupled with the deep water makes this lake a favorite.

Starting at the public launch anglers should hit the western shoreline. Logs, fallen trees and a few old boathouses provide plenty of cover. The long point and the small island are other options.

In winter, three prime locations stand out. The first is the big bay that leads into Lower Crooked Lake. This long and narrow bay has the shorelines lined with lily pads and cabbage weeds.

The center of the bay is 30-plus-feet deep. The best bluegill fishing is in 16-25 foot range. Most often the fish will be suspended and this is almost a guarantee when they are deeper than 20-feet.

On the south end of the lake anglers will find deep water mixed in with some shallow points. The bluegill suspend around these points and in the open water basin.

The center of the lake loads up with bluegill after a long spell of warm weather and southwest winds. The fish light up your graph like a Christmas tree.

Plastic baits have some notable advantages over an angler armed with just live bait. Plastic bait does not freeze hard like wax worms, mousies and spikes. Trying to keep minnows alive can be a challenge under any weather conditions.

Looking for an open bait store is not a problem. With plastics you can fish when you want without the concern of running all over town.

Last and one of my favorite reasons is that you re-bait much less. When it is cold nothing is worse than taking off your mittens and trying to re-bait a lure.

You can rig a plastic in different configurations. While the straight approach is often the best you can hook plastic bait through the center. This looks much like a wacky worm presentation.

The wacky worm presentation you slide the hook through the center of you plastic bait. The two dangling ends often entice a hungry crappie or perch.

Hooking plastic bait through the tip leaves the balance of the bait hanging straight down like a straight line. When the angler lifts up the plastic tail rises almost parallel with the surface and then flutters straight down when the jig or teardrop is left motionless.

Another way of hooking plastic bait is threading it up the hook. With some jigs or teardrops you can create an L shape to your plastic bait when hooked in this manner.

With plastic bait it becomes easy to match the hatch in size if necessary. You can trim the body of a plastic bait to create a smaller profile. I often cut the fat portion of the body down leaving only the thinnest portion of the lure. The Whip R Snap and the Whip R Knocker are both great plastics that you can alter and enjoy good results.

When using a bait such as the Whip R Shad consider cutting out a piece of the bait near the center of the belly. This will dramatically change the action of the bait.

Some days you can create a small feeding frenzy with plastic bait. Countless times in the spring when one angler catches a crappie or bluegill and the other angler casts in the exact spot that angler gets a fish. It then becomes a contest between the two anglers in seeing who can get their bait back into the honey hole first.

With plastics you can do the same. Instead of re-baiting just drop down your lure and start twitching your lure.

On one rod I would use a teardrop that has some motion to it when jigged. I run two Whip R rods or sometimes three. Two favorites include the Lave Glow with its semi U shape and the Tungsten Skandia ice jigs. Add a plastic tail and you are in business.

Remember that the angler cuts the most holes often is the angler with the most fish. If you hit a good hole cut a second and fish two rods. Experience a feeding frenzy on plastic baits and your days dependent on live bait will go down remarkably.



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Anglers no longer required to keep baitfish receipts

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would like to inform anglers about new viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) regulations that went into effect Thursday, Jan. 9. The changes result in simpler regulations for anglers who purchase and use minnows as bait by removing the retail sales receipt provision.

Anglers will now no longer be required to possess their bait receipts while fishing and retail minnow sellers will no longer be required to provide anglers with detailed receipts for minnows.

VHS is a serious viral disease that has spread into the Great Lakes region and caused large-scale fish kills. VHS was first identified in the Great Lakes in 2005 and has caused mortalities in a number of fish species in the Michigan waters of Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, St. Clair and Detroit rivers, Lake Erie, and inland in Budd Lake near Harrison and Base Line Lake near Pinckney. It has also been found in Lake Michigan waters of Wisconsin.

The DNR actively monitors for VHS throughout the year and as other areas are identified positive for VHS, they will be listed online at www.michigan.gov/vhs.

Receipts were previously used for educational and enforcement purposes to direct anglers to places where their bait could be used based on purchase location and whether or not it was certified as disease-free.

VHS regulations have been in effect for several years and, after careful review, the DNR determined the retail receipt provision could be removed because anglers are more knowledgeable about the risks associated with baitfish use.

There is no known treatment for VHS, so preventing the spread of disease is the best way to protect Michigan’s fish. Anglers can help prevent the spread of VHS by keeping the following tips in mind when using baitfish:

Learn to identify the species of baitfish you are using. Species known to be susceptible to VHS and typically used as live bait include emerald shiners, spottail shiners and white suckers. Other species occasionally used as bait that are susceptible to VHS include bluntnose minnows, trout perch, gizzard shad, shorthead redhorse and silver redhorse.

Request that your local bait store sell certified disease-free baitfish.

Purchase and use only certified disease-free baitfish.

Never move live fish between bodies of water.

Disinfect your bait bucket, livewells and bilges between uses with a bleach solution (half-cup of bleach to 5 gallons of water) or allow equipment to dry thoroughly before using in a different body of water.

Properly dispose of all bait containers including worms and soil, crayfish and minnows in a trash receptacle.

Protecting Michigan’s world-class water resources is everyone’s responsibility for now and future generations. All boaters need to drain their livewell(s) and bilge of their boat upon leaving the waterbody because it’s the law.

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Christmas Bird Count

Christmas-bird-countFifty-one participants observed 60 species of birds (Table 1) on the Kent County Bird Count. With the addition of a Snowy Owl, 4 species of owls were recorded this year. No additional bird species were reported during count week. Total individuals sighted were 8725.

Carolina Wrens were big news with 17 sighted. Until this year only 37 have been sighted since 1953. About one third of the wrens sighted in 60 years were sighted this year. Carolina Wrens have been expanding their range northward. Robins sporadically began appearing on the Christmas Count beginning in 1965 with one and by 1977 17 occurred. Their numbers varied from zero to 27 until 1998 when 228 stayed for winter. Numbers were fewer than 25 annually until 2002 when we reached at high count of 238. Robins have been yearly regulars since 1997 and this year reached 105.

Canada Geese were not observed until 1975 and have been present every year since. In the early part of the 20th century Aldo Leopold noted Canada Geese were headed for extinction. Thanks to groups like Audubon, Ducks Unlimited and Federally funded programs, Canada Geese decline was reversed along with that of many species. The Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Clear Air Act, and establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency have improved environmental health for people, birds and economy. The establishment of conservation reserve easements on private farmlands and establishment of National Wildlife Refuges have been significantly important.

Christmas bird counts across the continent help document seasonal abundance, population trends, and changes in distribution. Citizen science projects like this help provide data useful for scientists studying environmental quality and changes in things like climate. As always, you are encouraged to participate in the annual bird count.

Conditions were 100 percent sunny all day with temperatures between 25 and 44 F. A light southerly breeze blew. Snow depth was between 3 and 12 inches. Moving water was partly open and still water was frozen.

We totaled 84 hours in vehicles traveling 830 miles. On foot we spent 15 hours covering 22 miles. A total of 852 miles were on foot and driving. Total birding hours was 100 plus 5 hours owling for 26 miles. There were 18 birding groups in the morning and 13 in the afternoon.

I am grateful for the needed support from group leaders and many people that made the count a success.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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Wintering Monarchs

A Monarch Butterfly feeding on Swamp Milkweed.

A Monarch Butterfly feeding on Swamp Milkweed. 

You can save the world for monarch butterflies in your yard. Monarch numbers are down.

Follow through on a New Year’s Resolution to save the world for Monarchs. Make sure milkweeds grow in your garden or on disturbed ground. Saving the world is within our grasp if we are responsible Earth stewards. Actions in our yards can make a difference for good. Grow milkweeds for the love of wildlife and beauty in your yard, as a religious mandate for creation stewardship, or to protect your own survival by keeping fellow inhabitants of Earth present that provide essential contributions to nature niches.

The following information is based on a New York Times article passed along by colleagues Barb Bloetscher and further massaged by Dave Horn.

Numbers of over wintering monarch butterflies are at record low numbers this year in Mexico. Last year’s estimate of 60 million was already a record low, and fewer than three million have appeared so far this fall (20 times fewer). Some fear that the spectacular monarch migration might be a thing of the past.

The decline is real, although the cause or causes are not obvious. Recently, scientists have focused on loss of native vegetation, especially in and around agricultural fields in mid America. As the price of corn has soared recently, farmers have expanded fields by plowing every available piece of land that can grow corn. Millions of acres once in conservation reserve are now plowed, and more and more herbicide is used in crop production. That has led to loss of many nectar sources plus uncounted acres of milkweed, the food for monarch caterpillars. It is estimated that Iowa has lost 60 to 90 percent of its milkweed. Roads, malls and sterile lawns have also contributed to the loss of food for monarch larvae and adults, along with those of other butterflies.

So what to do? Anyone with a yard or garden can increase biological diversity with a variety of wild and cultivated plants including milkweed. For additional ideas, log onto the Monarch Watch website: http://www.monarchwatch.org/

An additional note that I mentioned in a previous Nature Niche article is that genetically modified corn and soybeans have made crops resistant to herbicides. Plants necessary for wildlife cannot survive the increased herbicide use. Monarchs have lost most food sources between Mexico and Michigan. Our yards are essential habitat and each of us is essential in the effort to maintain healthy biodiversity. Our cities and our rural yards are the new Ark for Monarchs, Earth, and us.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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Fishing tournament Feb. 8-9

Tom Enbody caught the biggest pike last year at the LOLA Ice Fishing tourney. It was 40-1/8 inches and 19.02 pounds.

Tom Enbody caught the biggest pike last year at the LOLA Ice Fishing tourney. It was 40-1/8 inches and 19.02 pounds.

The Land of Lakes Association will hold its annual ice fishing tournament on February 8 and 9. It will include eight lakes: Lincoln, Friant, Little Lincoln, Black, Blue, Maston, Little Muskellunge and Cedar Lakes. There will be door prizes and prizes for several categories of fish. For more info, call Mike Nienhuis at (616) 813-9585.


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Free youth rabbit hunt Jan. 18

The Department of Natural Resources is teaming up with the Mid-Michigan Chapter of United Sportsmen’s Alliance (MMUSA), the Belding Sportsman’s Club (BSC), and several other sporting groups and local businesses to sponsor a youth rabbit hunt at the Flat River State Game Area on Saturday, Jan. 18.

The day will kick off with a free breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and will conclude with a free lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. All events will occur at the Belding Sportsman’s Club, located at 10651 Youngman Road in Belding.

There is no fee to participate, and maps of potential hot spots on the 11,000 acres of nearby public hunting land will be available. Participating youths will be eligible for a number of outstanding raffle prizes.

“This hunt came together thanks to the cooperation of many partners with an interest in keeping Michigan’s hunting tradition going strong,” said DNR wildlife biologist John Niewoonder. “We hope that the instruction, hands-on field experience, fun and camaraderie will get kids excited about trying their hand at hunting.”

Hunting parties must have at least one member younger than 17 years old and should pre-register by Jan. 15. For more information or to register, contact the Flat River State Game Area at 616-794-2658.

Participating hunters must have a valid small game or mentored youth hunting license, available online at www.mdnr-elicense.com or anywhere hunting licenses are sold.

To learn more about youth hunting, visit www.michigan.gov/mentoredhunting.

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Brush, stick-ups and timber for big gills and crappie

OUT-Jack-Payne-columnby Jack Payne


Stick-ups, bushes or wood of any type are a drawing card for crappie and gills. Winter time and early spring are my favorites but twelve months out of the year panfish will be found in wood if present.

Standing timber in most of our lakes are visible. Brushy shorelines are also easily spotted but some of the best brush might be under the ice during the winter. Early season success is often found in mud bottom areas, shallow water structure, canals and channels. Add the timber or brush it becomes a real hot spot.

Cutting holes is the one thing that I hate but the most important. Once a brushy shoreline is found or an area of tree tops cut a series of holes. Six holes is a minimum and depending on the size of your targeted area, maybe 10 holes.

Start fishing at the first hole and move down every few minutes if no action is found. If the action slows on a hole move down and return in thirty minutes. When fishing the brush along a shoreline you normally catch a couple of fish from each brush pile.

Tree tops that have numerous limbs might hold a limit of fish. In this case you might need four holes to fish one tree. Early in the season the tree tops closest to the shore produce the best. As winter takes hold the tops closest to deep water produce best.

A stump field can be a combination of the two. Stumps most often are located away from the shoreline and often in deeper water. They provide a great year around structure but a good graph is needed in locating them. Once a stump field is found a GPS becomes your best friend.

Backwaters of a river or a bayou almost always have brush along the shoreline. An undeveloped section of a lake will have logs, brush and debris near the shoreline or fallen trees that might reach the first drop-off.

Fallen trees create a canopy for the fish to hide under. The closer the drop-off is to the shoreline the longer or larger the canopy will be. Vision a majestic 50 foot oak tree that fell into the lake. Twenty feet from shore the drop-off begins. Part of the tree will be hanging over the drop-off creating perfect year around cover.

If the snow is not too deep you can often spot these trees. Deep snow requires some luck and good usage of your graph. Open water anglers should invest in a hand held GPS to mark these locations for the best winter action.

Bluegills require a smaller jig than a crappie. Wax worms work great but don’t forget the spikes. Stick-ups and wood are a natural fit when panfishing fishing. Simple techniques that allow pinpoint control deliver the maximum results. Use caution around any visible brush or timber when a warm thaw begins. Wood absorbs heat and the ice can rot out quickly near timber. For more information check out the website at www.jackpaynejr.com.








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