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DNR’s annual frog survey marks 20th year

OUT-Frog-survey

The Department of Natural Resources announced this week that its 20th annual statewide Frog and Toad Survey would begin this spring. Michigan’s survey is second only to Wisconsin’s in longevity.

The DNR Wildlife Division coordinates and analyzes data for the survey, while volunteers throughout the state conduct the field work for the survey. These annual survey efforts help biologists monitor frog and toad abundance and distribution in the state.

“We have collected a large, valuable data set to help us evaluate Michigan’s frog and toad populations,” said Lori Sargent, the DNR’s survey coordinator. “We’re now able to start watching trends and thinking about how to slow down some of the species’ declines.”

For example, Sargent pointed out that over the past 19 years Michigan has seen a decline in Fowler’s toads and mink frogs, two species that have a limited range in the state, unlike most of the other species that occur statewide.

Declining populations of frogs, toads and other amphibians have been documented worldwide since the 1980s. Studies suggest amphibians are disappearing due to habitat loss, pollution, disease and collection.

Volunteer observers conduct the surveys along a statewide system of permanent survey routes, each consisting of 10 wetland sites. Observers visit these sites three times during spring, when frogs and toads are actively breeding, listening for calling frogs and toads at each site, identifying the species present and making an estimate of abundance.

“We could still use some new volunteers in all parts of the state,” Sargent said. “Please consider joining us for a fun, educational time every spring and adopt a route. The continued success of the program is dependent on strong volunteer support.”

Those interested in volunteering should contact Lori Sargent at SargentL@michigan.gov or 517-284-6216 and provide their name and address.

More information on the Frog and Toad Survey and other projects supported by the Nongame Wildlife Fund is available at www.michigan.gov/wildlife.

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Successful year for Master Angler program

Did you know there are fish this size in Cedar Springs? Richard Virkstis, of Walker, made the Master Angler list in 2011 when he caught this Northern pike in Lime Lake, just west of Cedar Springs. It was 44.5 inches long, and just under 20 lbs.

Did you know there are fish this size in Cedar Springs? Richard Virkstis, of Walker, made the Master Angler list in 2011 when he caught this Northern pike in Lime Lake, just west of Cedar Springs. It was 44.5 inches long, and just under 20 lbs.


The Michigan Department of Natural Resources today announced the results from its 2014 Master Angler program—a program that has been in place since 1973 to recognize large fish caught by recreational anglers. This past year, 987 anglers representing 19 states and Canada submitted catches that were recognized as Master Angler fish. That is a decrease from the 1,208 fish recognized in 2013. Of the entries accepted, 327 were categorized as “catch and keep” and 660 were categorized as “catch and release.” The most popular 2014 Master Angler entries by species include:

84 smallmouth bass

76 bluegill

60 crappie

57 channel catfish

56 rainbow trout

54 rock bass

37 walleye

Master Angler entries for 2014 included five state records, including flathead catfish (52.0 pounds, caught on Barron Lake by Dale Blakley of Niles); white perch (1.93 pounds, caught on Muskegon Lake by Aaron Slagh of Holland); brown bullhead (3.77 pounds, caught on Alcona Pond by Jared Gusler of Fairview); black buffalo (41.25 pounds, caught on Bear Lake by Joshua Teunis of Grand Haven); and quillback carpsucker (8.25 pounds, caught on Hardy Dam Pond by Benjamin Frey of Grand Rapids).

Submissions for the 2015 Master Angler program are being accepted now through Jan. 10, 2016. To download an application, visit michigan.gov/masterangler. Anglers are encouraged to submit their applications as fish are caught, rather than holding submissions until the end of the year.

The DNR reminds anglers that it is now even easier to participate in the Master Angler program, since the weight requirement has been removed for catch-and-keep entries. Anglers will no longer need to find a commercial scale to weigh their fish, as both the catch-and-keep and catch-and-release categories will now be based only on length. However, anglers should keep in mind that state-record fish still will be determined by weight.
Dozens of photos showing a variety of Master Angler catches over the years are available on the DNR’s Facebook page in the Master Angler photo album.

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DNR recommends charges in elk-poaching case


OUT-Elk-poaching-shield
Reward offered for other elk-poaching incidents

A Jackson County man has confessed to the illegal killing of a small bull elk during the firearm deer season in Otsego County, according to Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers who investigated the incident.

A passerby discovered elk parts dumped along a rural road Nov. 29, 2014. A DNR conservation officer investigating the scene located a grocery store receipt among the entrails of an elk. A six-week investigation ensued, and they identified and interviewed a suspect, who confessed. The Otsego County prosecutor is now reviewing charges.

According to Lt. Jim Gorno, DNR law enforcement supervisor in Gaylord, officers from southern Michigan, a diligent Report All Poaching (RAP) Hotline dispatcher, and a detective from the department’s Special Investigations Unit assisted conservation officers from the DNR’s Gaylord Customer Service Ce nter in the investigation.

“This case started with very limited clues and evidence, but through solid investigative follow-up, in conjunction with excellent teamwork being displayed by several of our officers around the state, it was brought to a successful conclusion,” said Gorno. “It shows diligence and tenacity in investigating cases involving our high-value fish and game species.”

Elk poaching carries fines of up to $2,500, restitution to the state of up to $1,500, loss of the firearm used in the incident and loss of hunting privileges for up to three years.

Conservation officers continue to investigate a number of poaching-related incidents involving elk in northern Michigan. Anyone with information regarding any incident is asked to call the DNR Law Enforcement Division at the Gaylord Customer Service Center at 989-732-3541 or the 24-hour RAP Line at 800-292-7800.

Any fish, game or natural resources violation can be reported to the DNR’s RAP Line or with the online reporting form available at the DNR website www.michigan.gov/conservationofficers.

Information leading to an arrest and conviction is eligible for a cash reward funded by the Game and Fish Protection Fund. Information also may be left anonymously.

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Student teaches kids how to survive falling through ice

Zachary Winzer developed a “Water Safety” course that emphasizes ice safety.

Zachary Winzer developed a “Water Safety” course that emphasizes ice safety.

Over the next several weeks, the lakes, ponds and streams of West Michigan, currently covered in ice, will begin to thaw, creating some potentially hazardous conditions. According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 3,500 people die from drowning and 1 in 5 of those deaths are children 14 and under. Many of those deaths are actually caused by the fatal effects of cold water and not the fatal effects of water filled lungs, which is why it is important for kids to know what to do if they fall through the ice.

Zachary Winzer, the grandson of Richard and Mary Winzer, of Cedar Springs, and a senior at Muskegon Catholic Central High School, is a member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, and recently developed a “Water Safety” course that emphasizes ice safety and the steps to take to survive falling through the ice.

“What many people don’t realize is that when you plunge into the freezing water, your body experiences ‘Cold Shock,’ a condition characterized by uncontrolled rapid breathing and gasping, which leads to water inhalation,” explained Winzer.   “If I can teach kids how to control their breathing and not panic until the cold shock dissipates, it will increase their chances of survival.”

At the end of the presentation, participants know exactly what to do if they fall through the ice and what to do if they see someone else fall through the ice. In addition, the course teaches water safety tips for surviving the rip currents that occur every day on the shores of Lake Michigan as well as important boating safety tips for kids.  The presentation takes about 45 minutes and includes a fun game at the end that tests the newly acquired knowledge of the participants.

On Friday, February 6th, Winzer presented the course to the 3rd & 4th grade classes at Muskegon Catholic Central elementary school, and the 3rd & 4th grades of St. Mary’s elementary in Spring Lake.  The students had fun while learning the water safety tips and really enjoyed the Water Safety Challenge, a game Winzer developed, that tested their knowledge. They all were rewarded with life preserver cookies by Goobers Bakery, and the USCG Auxiliary also provided water safety coloring books to each of the students to reinforce the lessons taught in the presentation.

Winzer joined the USCG Auxiliary in the spring of his junior year and has been working toward earning his certified Boating Safety Instructor credentials as part of his senior year community service project.  This has required countless hours of study and several steps of accreditation. Winzer balanced the time demands of college prep coursework and working toward his USCG Auxiliary credentials with being the starting safety and slot receiver for the back to back football State Champion Muskegon Catholic Central Crusaders, where he received 1st Team All Area honors as a defensive back. He is also an All State center fielder for the Crusaders and training hard to help his team make a run at a baseball state title. Winzer is being recruited to play baseball for the United States Merchant Marine Academy, one of the five national service academies, and just received the honor of a congressional nomination from both Senator Stabenow and Congressman Huizenga.

“This has been a very demanding senior year, but I am very proud to have had the chance to serve both my community and country with the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. This presentation can help save lives so the time developing it was well worth it,” said Winzer.

Winzer is hopeful that other schools and organizations will request the presentation and is eager to continue to serve his community. If your school or civic organization is interested in having the presentation conducted for your students, please contact the USCG Auxiliary Flotilla 31-5 at the Grand Haven Coast Guard Station.

The USCG Aux is a volunteer branch of the Coast Guard that was founded in 1939 and is known as America’s Volunteer Lifesavers.  The members of the Auxiliary conduct Safe Boating Courses, Vessel Safety Checks, Harbor Patrols, Search and Rescue Missions as well as Marine Environmental Protection.

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North and South Facing Slopes

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The sun is rising higher in sky, moving farther north and shines in our east facing bedroom window. I speak of appearances instead of accurate occurrences. For most of human history, it was thought that appearances were how things worked in nature niches. We thought the sun rose instead of the Earth rotating to make it appear the sun rises. In the 16th century, Copernicus shared that Earth was not center of universe, and he was placed on house arrest for life unless he recanted and stated his scientific discovery was false. He did not recant his scientific discovery.

An event of great significance for plants and animals is the angle the sun strikes the landscape. Though it is easily observable, many of us have not consciously noticed or considered its importance. Our noses may have noticed skunks begin venturing out in February when days are longer. Day light has been lengthening for two months, even though we receive some of our coldest air at this time of year. We experienced -15 F in mid February.

Cold arctic air masses alternate with warmer southerly air masses sweeping over the region. When clouds are not blocking the sun, higher angle sunrays make more direct contact with the landscape. They warm south facing slopes, melt its snow, and warm the ground to kick-start spring growing conditions earlier than occurs on north facing slopes, where sunlight skims over the slope. Sunray energy concentrates in a smaller area when it strikes south facing slopes perpendicularly. On north-facing slopes, the same amount of energy is obliquely spread widely over a larger area and results in less warming of ground, plants, over wintering insects and other creatures.

Growing seasons on north and south-facing slopes vary depending on the amount of energy they absorb and it creates unique plant and animal microhabitats. As March approaches, notice the variations. The north side of Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary’s big field has exposed bare ground earliest when warm rays reflect infrared heat off forest trees. The middle of the field is slower to lose snow and frozen ground. The south edge of the field is slowest to warm and lose snow because naked winter tree trunks and branches filter light energy and prevent some rays from reaching that edge of the field.

Energy captured by dormant winter trees warms the bark and begins sap flow in February. Look closely at tree buds to notice they swell in advance of spring. It is easier to see changes in trees and shrubs than changes in field plants on north and south-facing slopes. Herbaceous plants have dead vegetation above ground but the warming Earth stimulates unobserved root activity. When spring growth emerges, plants on south-facing slopes bloom earlier than the same species growing on north-facing slopes.

Unfortunately, people often reject science evidence for political or religious reasons as happened with Copernicus. Concerns might stem from human fear of the unknown when we consider changing how to use Earth’s resources. Some people are willing to change behavior to sustain future generations, in addition to caring for our present population, while others focus only on the present. When asked, it appears people are interested in our children’s, grandchildren’s, and succeeding generations sustainability. However, actions are more important than talk, when addressing how we live and strive to sustain a healthy Earth for present and future human generations. It is important that we do not ignore accumulating scientific evidence for how things like the Keystone pipeline or human-caused climate change impact the triple bottom line of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Present and future generations depend on healthy functioning ecosystems. In present day society many are unwilling to accept scientific evidence, much like political and religious leaders were unwilling to accept Copernicus’s discoveries.

Go beyond appearances to discover and understand the importance of evidence-based occurrences.

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 or call 616-696-1753.

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DNR reminds anglers of ice shanty removal rules

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reminds anglers that the dates for mandatory ice shanty removal are approaching. Anglers are required to remove shanties as soon as the ice is unsafe to hold them, regardless of the date.
Ice shanties must be removed from Lake St. Clair before sunset Feb. 22.

In the northern Lower Peninsula, ice shanties need to be removed by midnight March 15. Counties included in the northern Lower Peninsula are: Alcona, Alpena, Antrim, Arenac, Bay, Benzie, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Clare, Crawford, Emmet, Gladwin, Grand Traverse, Iosco, Isabella, Kalkaska, Lake, Leelanau, Manistee, Mason, Mecosta, Midland, Missaukee, Montmorency, Newaygo, Oceana, Ogemaw, Osceola, Oscoda, Otsego, Presque Isle, Roscommon and Wexford.
In remaining counties of the southern Lower Peninsula, shanties must be removed by midnight March 1.
In the Upper Peninsula, shanties must be removed by midnight March 31.

Persons placing a shanty on Michigan-Wisconsin boundary waters shall remove the shanty by midnight March 15.
After mandatory removal dates, shanties may be placed on the ice on a daily basis, but must be removed daily.
Shanty owners who allow the structures to fall through the ice are subject to penalties of up to 30 days in jail, fines of not less than $100 or more than $500 or both. If a shanty is removed by a government agency, the court can require the owner to reimburse the government for an amount of up to three times the cost of removals.
For more information on ice fishing shanty regulations and fishing in Michigan, refer to the Michigan Fishing Guide online at www.michigan.gov/fishing.

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Spruce branch tips

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Pounding front feet, a flicking tail, and loud chatter from a red squirrel demonstrates its defiance, as it scolds me in his woods. I do not view the woods as his, mine, or yours. We live and share a space for a short time on Earth and hopefully leave it healthy for those that follow us. We all impact those around us and red squirrels bring benefit and harm to spruces. Gray and fox squirrels seem more tolerant of my presence. All three species give me space but the red squirrel is feistier.

Gray squirrels are most comfortable in extensive, unbroken forest dominated by oaks. Fox squirrels prefer a deciduous forest with openings. The red squirrels claim dominance in the coniferous forest where they let intruders know they are trespassing.

At the Howard Christensen Nature Center, a plantation of Norway spruce referred to as the Enchanted Forest is home to red squirrels. In the forest’s youthful days, green boughs were in contact with the ground and there was more open space among the trees. Younger aspen trees grew in the surrounding area. As the spruce plantation grew, more shade was cast upon the ground. When I first arrived in 1979, the trees were tall and sunlight reached the ground in few locations. Those locations bore luminescent bright green moss. Though it was reflected light, one would think the light was shining directly from within the moss—hence the name “Enchanted Forest.”

In winter, the forest is quiet unless one passes too close to a red squirrel. Often we do not see or hear the squirrel but other evidence of its presence is abundant. It took some time for me to link the evidence to the red squirrel. Six-inch green spruce branch tips regularly cover the ground in winter. I wondered why. It does not seem that they would break free from the tree in mass. A strong windstorm or ice covering should not cause branch tips to break.

Finally I realized red squirrels venture toward branch tips to eat lateral buds along the branch. Buds swell most toward branch tips and their succulence is preferred. The bud at the branch tip would taste even better but the branch becomes too flimsy for easy access.

When the squirrel eats the two buds along the side, the remaining tip falls to the ground. If it does not fall immediately, wind will break the weak gnawed area causing it to fall in short order. On the ground, the red squirrel could enjoy the terminal bud that it could not reach when it was in the tree. I do not find evidence that it eats those buds but I have not really inspected the new and growing green carpet that thickens under spruces as winter progresses. Mice or other ground animals might find good nutrition just laying around for their taking. It does not cross their minds to thank the squirrel for making food accessible. The squirrel’s action might even be compared to us putting out birdseed. Actions of one animal in nature niches often have positive effects for other animals.

One would think biting branch tips off would only cause harm. The squirrel activity also has some positive impacts for the tree. We prune Christmas trees to cause them to form shorter bushier thick growth. The squirrels do the same for Norway spruce. It encourages the tree to put more energy into vertical growth and helps prevent growing branches into a neighbor’s space. It forces the tree to spend energy for upward growth that keeps its head in sunlight. That helps the tree live instead of being shaded to death by neighboring trees.

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, or call 616-696-1753.

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Got Birds? Tell FeederWatch!

A Northern Cardinal by Errol Taskin/Project Feederwatch

A Northern Cardinal by Errol Taskin/Project Feederwatch

Don’t let what happens at the feeder stay at the feeder

Chickadees, Northern Cardinals, and other feeder birds carry an important message about the health of bird populations and our environment. In order to decode that message, people just need to count their birds and report what they see to Project FeederWatch. The 28th season of this Cornell Lab of Ornithology citizen-science project is going on now and there is still time to sign up.

FeederWatch runs November 8, 2014 through April 3, 2015. Participants are urged to sign up at www.FeederWatch.org. The project is easy to do and makes a great family activity.

“We learn so much from the information people report to us, and the data becomes more and more valuable as time goes by,” says project leader Emma Greig. “This is how we learned that Bushtits are increasing in the western part of the country and that more Yellow-rumped Warblers are appearing in the East.”

A new tool on the FeederWatch website makes it easy for everyone to see the trends, such as the Bushtit and warbler increases, along with many others that decades of data reveal.

“With this new tool, anyone can make discoveries about bird populations using the millions of FeederWatch data points, with just a few clicks of their mouse,” says Greig.

Look at reports for one species, compare two species, or compare trends in different parts of the country. The new trend graphs are in the Explore section of the FeederWatch website.

“One trend we’d like to see is more bird reports coming in from cities,” Greig explains. “During the past 27 years of FeederWatch, we’ve only had reports of Monk Parakeets from 136 participants out of more than 50,000. We’re very interested in this invasive species, which has established breeding populations in cities from a few escaped caged birds. And overall, we need to hear from people with feeders in cities to make sure we’re getting a good sample of urban sightings. Join the 20,000 FeederWatchers from around the U.S. and Canada who already make this an important part of their year and contribute vital information to science while enjoying their feeder visitors.”

To learn more about joining Project FeederWatch in the U.S. and to sign up, visit www.FeederWatch.org or call the Cornell Lab toll-free at (866) 989-2473. In return for the $18 fee ($15 for Cornell Lab members), participants receive the FeederWatcher Handbook and Instructions with tips on how to successfully attract birds to your feeders, an identification poster of the most common feeder birds, and a calendar. Participants also receive Winter Bird Highlights, an annual summary of FeederWatch findings, as well as the Cornell Lab’s printed newsletter, All About Birds News. The fee is $35 in Canada. To sign up visit Bird Studies Canada at www.bsc-eoc.org.

Project FeederWatch is a joint research and education project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.pecies.

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Family hiking exploration (part 2)

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Five Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) trails were described last week and five more follow.

Trail signs have word names, picture icons, and color codes to involve all family members.

Spring Creek Loop (light blue lettered signs with frog icon)

Begins at the Welcome Center parking area and follows east past Chrishaven Lake and lake’s floating dock. It connects with Nature’s Habitats Trail (NHT) for a short distance and then continues eastward to Spring Lake where it loops south to follow the ridge above Spring Creek westward. It joins with NHT along the south side the enchanted Norway Spruce forest at the Spring Creek access spur and continues west until it spurs north to complete a loop near Chrishaven Lake.

Arboretum Paths (Red lettered signs with oak leaf icon)

It is a two-part trail. The East Arboretum Loop contains many species originally planted for ornamental transplant. The West Arboretum Loop is a Spruce/Pine plantation. The East Arboretum Loop is .4 kilometers (.25 miles) long.  The West Arboretum Loop is .5 kilometers (.3 miles).

Boardwalk to Chrishaven Lake (Dark blue lettered signs with sensitive fern frond icon)

A boardwalk leads through an old lake that has been largely replaced with vegetation to create a swampy/bog. A floating dock is present on the remnant of a once much larger lake and the boardwalk leads north to connect with Nature Habitats Trail. Its length is .27 kilometers (.2 miles).

Swamp Ridge Trail (Brown lettered signs with turtle icon)

Begins at the amphitheater fire circle between the Welcome Center parking area and the Red Pine Interpreting Building. It follows the south edge of the swamp eastward to Chrishaven Lake and continues east along the ridge.  At the open area south of the lake it raises from the lowland trail to upland but continues to follow the swamp ridge until meets Nature’s Habitats trail.

Thunderwood Trail (Green lettered signs with woodpecker icon)

Trail departs from Nature’s Habitats Trail, loops through upland forest to a boardwalk through what has become mostly swamp from what was once a marsh. Before entering an upland forest, hikers encounter large hemlock trees on their way to joining Arrowhead Trail. Length is .44 kilometers (.27 miles).

Some unnamed trails are meant for limited activity to allow wildlife privacy but are used during special programs. HCNC’s trail plan provides human access to nature niches balanced with providing plants and animals with needed sanctuary isolation for survival. Design incorporates three-use activity levels: High Activity, Passive Activity, and Limited Activity areas.

Constructed features along the trails enhance family hiking experiences. They include two interpretive buildings, Howard Christensen Memorial Spring, floating docks on the north and south side of Chrishaven Lake, Floating Bridge on Tadpole Pond, Swamp Shelter and Swamp decks on NHT, amphitheater, Swamp Tower, Tadpole Tower, Legend Circle, and Serenity Circle. A Welcome Center with restrooms is located at the south parking area.

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 or call 616-696-1753.

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Get hooked on ice fishing 

Kyle Draper shows off a yellow perch (that he caught at an ice-fishing clinic at the DNR’s Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center) to his mom, Angie. 
Michigan DNR photo.

Kyle Draper shows off a yellow perch (that he caught at an ice-fishing clinic at the DNR’s Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center) to his mom, Angie. 
Michigan DNR photo.

From the Michigan DNR

Fishing is a year-round activity and when the thermometer plunges below freezing in Michigan, most anglers have little choice but to hit the hard water. Ice fishing becomes the go-to activity until spring.

For beginning anglers, ice fishing offers one significant advantage: access. Boat-less anglers, who otherwise are limited to shorelines or fishing piers much of the year, can often access entire lakes. That inspires some anglers to proclaim that ice-fishing season is their favorite time of year.

Fortunately, ice fishing can be relatively simple. All that’s needed to start is a way to make a hole in the ice (an auger or spud), a way to clear the slush from it (an inexpensive scoop), and rudimentary equipment. So, how do you get started?

A volunteer instructor shops a young angler how to use a weight at an ice-fishing clinic at the DNR’s Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center. Michigan DNR photo.

A volunteer instructor shops a young angler how to use a weight at an ice-fishing clinic at the DNR’s Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center. Michigan DNR photo.

There’s a good opportunity coming soon. Feb.14-15 is Michigan’s annual Winter Free Fishing Weekend, when no license is needed to participate. There are hands-on educational events scheduled at a number of areas. In addition, the Carl T. Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center in Cadillac holds on-the-ice fishing events every Saturday at noon. Novice anglers often can find assistance nearby. Tom Goniea, a fisheries biologist at the Department of Natural Resources, says finding a mentor helps shorten the learning curve.

“Ask around,” Goniea said. “Ask the guys at work or the folks at church. Ice fishermen make up a community that’s usually quite willing to introduce others to the sport. And most ice fishermen have enough equipment that they can get you started if you go with them so you can see what you need.”

DNR fisheries biologist Christian LeSage agrees.
“There‘s a big social component to ice fishing,” he said. “When you get out on the ice people are usually friendly; they’re willing to tell you what they’re doing, what they’re using, and how they’re catching fish.”

Except for largemouth and smallmouth bass—bass season closes Jan. 1 and doesn’t completely reopen until the Saturday before Memorial Day—anglers who ice fish can pursue all species they target the rest of the year. Ice fishing can range from fishing for panfish on a farm pond to making miles-long sojourns on the Great Lakes in pursuit of walleyes, lake trout or other top-of-the-food-chain predators.

LeSage recommends people start with panfish. He likes bluegills.
“You can try it on a small pond in a park,” he said. “And you don’t need extravagant gear. If you go places where people have been fishing, you don’t even need an auger – you can reopen a hole with a hammer. “Most veteran fishermen know that the best fishing is at dawn and dusk, but you can catch bluegills throughout the day. You can catch them in shallow water. You can catch a lot in a small area. And they’re delicious.”

What’s nicest about bluegills is that they can be found almost everywhere and, as fishing quarry, are relatively unsophisticated. All you need is a basic gear. Small fiberglass rods with simple, spring-tension spoons can be yours for less than $10 and you will see accomplished ice anglers using them. Add some light line, a few low-cost teardrops (small weighted hooks) and a container of insect larvae (wax worms or spikes, the early life stages of bee moths or flies, respectively) and you’re in business. Lower your bait to the bottom, begin slowly working it upward in the water column until you start getting bites, and then fish at that depth. It can (and does) get much more complicated with expensive rods, sonar fish finders, and a plethora of other equipment. But many anglers never acquire all that gear and continue to enjoy productive bluegill fishing.

As you progress in the sport and explore other ice-fishing opportunities, the equation becomes decidedly more complex. Get addicted to walleye fishing and you’ll be into snowmobile or quad runners, insulated ice shanties, GPS, underwater cameras, the list is endless.

But some factors never change: The first rule of ice fishing is to be safe. Good, strong ice can support a semi-truck, but every year there are tragedies that often involve recklessness. Make sure the ice is safe. Even arctic temperatures won’t guarantee it, especially if there’s an insulating layer of snow on top. You can get up-to-date info from bait shops around fishing locales, but always make sure yourself. Carry a spud to test the ice in front of you as you venture forth. Don’t approach ice that is discolored or has objects (such as vegetation or timber) protruding through it. Be especially careful of rivers (current can degrade ice quickly) or spring-fed lakes and ponds where warmer water can cause thin spots in an otherwise solid surface.

Always carry basic emergency gear, just in case. Ice picks (or homemade alternatives constructed of nails in dowels) will give you a way to get purchase on the ice should you break through. Carry a rope to toss to someone else who breaks through.

It’s better—some would say mandatory—not to go alone. You certainly don’t want to head miles off shore at Saginaw Bay, say, or Little Bay de Noc, without a partner. Always make sure someone knows where you are going and when you plan to return. Carry your cell phone.

Make sure you dress for the weather. Dress in layers from head to toe. The best way to keep your feet warm is to keep your head warm, and a waterproof outer layer is advisable. Small luxuries such as extra gloves and hand warmers often pay large dividends.
Ice fishing isn’t for everybody. But if you look around in the winter and see the huge shanty towns that spring up on some of Michigan’s best fishing lakes, it’s obvious that a lot of people are having a lot of fun out there. It isn’t that difficult to become one of them.
For more information on ice fishing, visit the DNR’s website at www.michigan.gov/fishing.

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