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Archive | Outdoors

Silhouettes of Life

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A cottontail rabbit was in the backyard under the apple tree eating something in the deep snow. When I first noticed, it was sitting tall with front legs high above the ground. I first thought it was a plant silhouette that looked like a rabbit until it dropped to all fours and resumed eating. The yard was snow covered with no vegetation apparent above the snow. I wondered what it was eating. Later I discovered it was eating fallen apples.

Young trees will be killed during winter when rabbits girdle them for the tasty and nutritious bark. The yard took on a new beauty with twelve inches of snow. A wonderful cold spell remained in the low 20’s or colder keeping snow light and fluffy. Snow glazed tree branches but was thickest on larger branches. A cherry that would stand about 18 feet tall was arched with ice and snow highlighting its bent silhouette. I had not noticed the tree was bent until the snow outline drew my eye. It was not bent from snow or ice weight. This tree has been bent for a long time and I wondered how it became bent.

It crossed my mind that I should cut it to make room for it to sprout new straight growth or remove it so surrounding plants could grow without interference. Immediately I realized how much influence I could exert on the community at Ody Brook. It is not just my meddling but that of other creatures that shape the biotic landscape of silhouettes. Rabbits annually kill many young woody stems but roots strive to survive and produce new clusters of shoots in spring. There was a bird nest in the sugar maple in front of the house. I wondered if the bird was successful in rearing young. It seems that one of the many squirrels living here might have found the nest and eaten the eggs. During winter many nest silhouettes become apparent on naked exposed branches that were well camouflaged during the growing season.

Large trees stand tall protecting the open yard and house from winter’s heat stealing winds. They shelter birds, mammals, insects and us from the wind chilling bitter cold. Branch silhouettes provide a variety of views during long winter months. One night at dusk a few clouds mottled the sky behind living tree skeletons. Only a faint hint of orange penetrated between the branches making the view subtly beautiful as night took hold. Dimness slowly blurred and erased the separation of light and dark between trees and sky. Soon all was a dark canopy waiting for the next day’s new stories to be written in sky, on snow, and among the tree branches. Life activities continue during the depths of night and are revealed by telltale signs left for the sun to illuminate, when an interested explorer seeks nature niche mysteries.

As the year wound down to the solstice, my thoughts anticipated what might happen as daylight lengthened in the coming six months. Many best friends share Ody Brook Sanctuary and surroundings. Many will not survive the winter. Some friends are plants and are some animals. I even wondered if I would witness another year’s cycle of life and death as my body attacks itself with its own cells out of control with cancer. Cancer reminds me of my own mortality and heightens awareness and joy for everyday wonders.

I work diligently to enhance conditions that support healthy habitats for wild creatures, other people, and my family that call West Michigan home. Without hundreds of species at Ody Brook Sanctuary making life sustainable, rich, and meaningful for family and friends, there would be little purpose to wake. Without wild creatures there would be no breathable air, soil would be sterile, and plants could not grow food to nourish animals or us. Not only would there be no reason to wake but we could not wake without the contributions of nature that sustain life. We like to think we can survive and even thrive without wild creatures but we cannot. Happy New Year to all creatures bringing life and health to a new year.

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 out of the dark house

Keith Stanton and a monster fish

Keith Stanton and a monster fish

by Jack Payne

 

Spearing is a long time tradition in the northern states and a great way to pass a cold winter day. As in any ice fishing sport, safety is always an issue. Be sure the ice is thick enough to support you and the gear you’ll need.

Spear fishermen usually use a saw to cut a hole in the ice about 3-feet by 3-feet. An icehouse or shanty is placed over the hole. It is important to keep the interior of the shanty as dark as possible. The light through the surrounding ice will illuminate the water under the shanty and make the target fish visible. Most spearing is done near a break or on the shallow flat in 4-8 feet of water. Pick an area close to a marsh or a large flat where small perch and gills will roam.

Weighted spears are used to harvest the fish. These spears generally have six to twelve tines, and are five to six feet in length. A small diameter rope is attached to the spear for retrieval.

Keith Stanton might easily be called a dark house fanatic. He loves spearing and fishing out of any type of dark house. Keith created his own web site just to share the joy of this type of fishing with everyone. His site is called www.pikespearing.com. In addition he produces videos of spearing and fishing from a dark house.

“First and foremost, it’s a blast,” remarked Stanton on his thoughts of spearing. “The closest thing I can compare it to is bow hunting for whitetail deer.”

In his opinion, spearing fish through the ice offers much more of a challenge than tip up or hook and line fishing for this reason. And just like with bow hunting whitetail deer, when you see the fish swimming through the spearing hole you get the same adrenaline rush as you do when you are staring down a whitetail buck.

But pike spearing really offers so much more than just spearing the fish, especially if you have friends or family in the shanty with you. As you sit and wait for the fish to come in, it is a great time to catch up with old friends or just hear about what is new with your kids.  And of course just watching the aquatic life under the ice is also very cool. You usually see bass, pan fish, muskrats, carp, crayfish and other underwater water dwellers darting in and out of the spearing hole.

Pike spearing is a relatively inexpensive sport to get into, as all you need is just a shack or a portable shanty, a spear and a decoy. With the advances over the years in the portable fishing shanties, it is easier than ever to come up with a “dark house.”

When spearing for pike through the ice patience is the key. Some days you can sit all day without seeing a single fish. Other days it seems as though you can’t keep them out of the hole. Don’t get discouraged or give up until you have landed or speared at least one fish. And after you have experienced that excitement, you will be hooked!

Spearing provides solitude, quietness and a time to share a sport with a friend. The shanty provides a dark background and keeps the wind and snow off of you. I enjoyed sitting there and watching the perch and gills swim through nearly as much as the pike sliding in for a kill.

 

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Cougar illegally killed in UP

 

Michigan Department of Natural Resources law enforcement officials have confirmed a cougar was illegally killed last week in the Upper Peninsula’s Schoolcraft County.

Acting on a tip that a cougar had been illegally killed at a hunting camp in northeast Schoolcraft County, DNR conservation officers and Special Investigations Unit detectives were able to successfully recover evidence and identify and apprehend two suspects from Bay County.

Upon completion of the DNR’s investigation, the case will be turned over to the Schoolcraft County Prosecuting Attorney with warrant requests for charges. The state penalty for illegally killing a cougar, classified as an endangered species in Michigan, is up to 90 days in jail and fines and restitution of up to $2,500.

Anyone with information about this or any other poaching case is encouraged to call the DNR’s Report All Poaching (RAP) hotline at 800-292-7800, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Information can also be reported online at www.michigan.gov/conservationofficers. Tips and information can be left anonymously; information that leads to an arrest and conviction is eligible for a cash reward funded by the state’s Game and Fish Protection Fund.

A trail camera photo of a cougar near the same area as this incident was recently confirmed by the DNR’s Wildlife Division. Wildlife officials believe the animal killed was most likely the same cougar seen in the recent photo.

Cougars, also known as mountain lions, disappeared from the state in the early 1900s. The last confirmed wild cougar in Michigan prior to 2008 was an animal killed near Newberry in 1906.

Since 2008, the DNR has confirmed photos or tracks of cougars on 23 occasions in 10 Upper Peninsula counties. The animals are believed to be young individuals dispersing from established populations in the Dakotas in search of new territory. There is no evidence of a breeding population of cougars in the state.

The Wildlife Division’s specially trained cougar team welcomes citizen reports of possible cougar evidence or sightings. Cougar photos and other evidence, such as tracks, scat or cached kills, should be reported to a local DNR office or through the DNR’s online reporting form at www.michigan.gov/cougars.

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Restoring life in your yard

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

The joy of this past year with friends and family provides satisfaction and contentment. Immediately we anticipate what the coming year holds. We determined much of the future by our activities. Grandiose plans are forming. Some are just a start towards healthier days for our family, community, nation, and the world in fragile finite environments that support us.

Everything begins close at hand here at home. Look around and notice not much human activity takes place in yards. Most of us hide away in the warmth and comfort of our shelter with tasty food tucked away. We are like the Eastern Chipmunk that makes fewer ventures outside during late fall and we might also stay hidden inside during the coldest snowy days of winter.

The chipmunk stored food for the short days and long cold nights and is now curled in a snug ball in its underground fortress. It will remain active, eat and wait for a spring emergence. She will not hibernate but will sleep with little else to do. It has aided root health by tunneling and aerating the soil.

We do not need to sleep away the beauty and marvel of winter. We can venture to hidden corners of our yard enjoying evidence of abundant life. Tracks on snow, tunnels under it, sightings of squirrels in trees keep us entertained and aware that we do not live alone in the world.

The more native plants you allow to survive in the yard allow for an abundance of animal life. There is beauty in a manicured grass lawn and feeling of space that gives comfort to us even when it is under inches of snow. A lawn, however, is an almost sterile world that is crowding life off the planet.

Lawns often have little human activity except on workdays when we mow them with power mowers that expel carbon greenhouse gas into the air. Tom Small describes US lawns collectively as 45 million acres of “No man’s land.” It might be better to identify them as sterile land lacking suitable nature niches for sustaining biodiversity to support us and fellow inhabitants of Earth.

Small states that lawns are a vast, sterile, industrialized monoculture that robs soil of nutrients, robs streams of water, robs the region’s creatures of habitat, and robs the neighborhood of community.

It impressed me when I took a group of middle school students, including two from Cedar Springs, on an educational trip to the rain forest and rural communities in Belize. In a poor rural community, we observed women with children gathered in a yard with flower hedges along the property boundary. Neighbor’s yards were without flowers and shrubs and were devoid of people. People usually do not gather on empty lawns to visit and pass time even here in the US. We like to be among life and beauty.

During the New Year, plan to restore the yard with an abundance of life that preceded settlement of our town and rural surroundings. Most yards now use natural resources without giving back or paying it forward for the health of coming generations. We often give gifts and community support for those in need. Consider giving vital inheritance for coming generations. Squandering the soil, nutrients, air, and water quality steals economic and physical health from unborn generations. Unfortunately, beautiful lawns reduce life on Earth. Let nature into your yard this coming year and restore life. It starts at home.

The creatures that fill nature niches replenish nutrient cycles, brighten our days, and maintain clean air and water. Fellow inhabitants of Earth are money in the bank for a sustainable future. They are the savings account of our kids. This new year, plan to replace sections of the lawn with native plants to restore health in the yard. You will enjoy birds and the air will fill with the songs of nature during day and night.

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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The sound science of clear-cuts

Clear-cuts are used to help regenerate species that can’t compete in mature forests. Two of the most notable species that are clear-cut are aspen and jack pine. In order to maximize regeneration, aspen (pictured) must be clear-cut.



Clear-cuts are used to help regenerate species that can’t compete in mature forests. Two of the most notable species that are clear-cut are aspen and jack pine. In order to maximize regeneration, aspen (pictured) must be clear-cut.

The Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Resources Division is in charge of managing the timber on state forest land. The DNR’s Wildlife Division is in charge of managing the critters. But because forestry practices have a big impact on wildlife habitat, the two divisions co-manage state forests to benefit both timber and wildlife. And although the divisions sometimes have different ideas, both agree on one, often misunderstood, technique: clear-cutting.

“Clear-cutting is a sound scientific management technique for harvesting and regenerating certain forest types,” explained Deb Begalle, forest planning and operations section manager with the Forest Resources Division. “Usually it’s for shorter-lived species—such as aspen and jack pine—which are also sun-loving species. They need a lot of sunlight to establish and grow.”

Clear-cutting involves removing virtually all the timber from a stand, which encourages regrowth of the preferred species. But it doesn’t involve stripping the landscape as it did during the timbering era.

“Clear-cutting isn’t what it was 100 years ago,” Begalle said. “We leave some trees in place for a variety of reasons—for wildlife, for aesthetics, sometimes in clumps, sometimes individual trees.

“People are averse to the look of clear-cuts. They see a lot of slash (branches, logs and other debris from natural occurrences or logging operations) on the ground and find it unsightly. But the slash puts nutrients back into the ground as the branches decompose. It also provides micro-habitat for wildlife species, such as salamanders, and brush piles for rabbits.”

DNR wildlife biologist Mark Sargent says young aspen is important to a host of species – grouse, woodcock, deer, rabbits, hare, moose, elk and numerous songbirds.

“In the case of grouse, young aspen stands provide brood-rearing and nesting habitat and, as they grow older, they produce winter food via buds,” he explained. “But young aspen also provides browse for deer, elk and moose—leaves, stems, tops and bark. As the trees grow larger, they grow out of the reach of the animals.”

But along with aspen, Sargent said, come other shade-intolerant plants—raspberries, forbs, dogwood and hawthorns—that provide food or cover for wildlife, too.

“A clear-cut can create outstanding browse and still provide habitat for grouse and woodcock,” he added. “It’s a win-win situation.”

The most critical characteristic of clear-cuts is that they really don’t last long. “We always assure trees are going to grow back quickly,” Begalle said. “In the case of aspen, it will come back so quickly that within a year we have seedlings all over the place.”

Aspen is typically managed on 40- to 60-year rotations for several reasons. That’s not only when the trees have good timber value, but when they’re prime for regenerating.

“The older it gets, the less well aspen regenerates,” Begalle said. “Aspen sort of uses up its vitality. It regenerates through its root system and if it’s losing vitality, it won’t produce as many sprouts.”

While the cuts are well-planned, one of the things the DNR is sometimes criticized for is not leaving buffer areas around clear-cuts.

“We usually do not leave buffers along private property lines, because people then think that’s the property line,” Begalle explained. “A lot people utilize or build on that uncut area because they believe the cut is the property line. And if we left buffers along all the property lines, that would leave thousands of acres unmanaged.

“We try to keep aesthetics in mind,” she continued. “If we have long-lived tree species, such as white pine and oak, we will try to leave those along roadways and private property.”

Clear-cuts do not work for all trees, such as hardwoods or saw-log conifers, but where short-lived, shade-intolerant species are concerned, both Wildlife and Forest Resources division staff agree: Clear-cuts are clearly the way to go.

For more information about how the DNR manages Michigan’s state forest land, visit www.michigan.gov/forestplan.

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Bird Opportunity

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Join others for a last bird watching opportunity in 2013. Experienced birders will help you identify about 60 species on December 28, during the Christmas Bird Count sponsored by National Audubon, Michigan Audubon, and Grand Rapids Audubon Club.

This is my 27th year coordinating the Kent County event. It’s a time people enjoy seeing birds in their winter nature niches and celebrate the diversity of life that abounds around us. About 60 people gather and divide into small groups that venture to various areas within the count circle. Birds are counted in an area with a 7.5-mile radius surrounding the Honey Creek and Two Mile Roads intersection.

Some are surprised we annually find American Robins and Eastern Bluebirds. They are birds that stay provided berries are found in wetlands. More exciting are winter bird visitors that consider this area a southern wintering ground. Included are the Snowy Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Snow Bunting, Purple Finch, and Common Redpoll. Other remaining here in winter that most of us do not notice are Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, and Song Sparrow. I saw a kingfisher here at Ody Brook along Little Cedar Creek last week.

Some winter migrants from the north have arrived indicating count day should be great. A Rough-legged Hawk flew over Ody Brook and I observed a Snow Owl west of here. Two Snow Bunting flocks made an appearance in farm fields.

The local Audubon Club hopes you join the free family activity for part or all day. Previous bird knowledge or experience is not necessary. Join experienced birders and carpool for a great birding experience. Meet at the Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) across the street from Lowell High School at 11715 Vergennes Rd on December 28. The WWC is a great facility to visit and see many live mounts of birds displayed or hike a trail. WWC is where I was director during the last years before retiring from fulltime work. I hold Federal and State permits to display birds through the Michigan Audubon Society at Howard Christensen Nature Center and WWC. Plan on visiting either facility if you want to learn identification, size, and postures for birds before count day.

We meet at 7:30 a.m. at WWC, organize into groups and are out birding by 8 a.m. Some people join for the morning and others stay for the day. A hot lunch will be provided for $5 or bring a brown bag lunch. Consider making a donation to support the National Christmas Bird Count. Money donated is sent to the National Audubon and is used to maintain the database for all bird sightings on the continent. Scientists as well as birders can view the data online. It is used to monitor population changes from year to year. This is the 116th year for the Audubon Count.

Come dressed in layers that can be removed or added as temperature changes. We are in and out of cars at many locations. Bring binoculars and bird books if you have them. People will share if you do not. It is best to call me ahead of time (616-696-1753) if you plan to participate but just showing up is fine. I can answer questions you might have about count day activities.

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

 

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Shallow water bass and walleye

Roscommon fishing: Mandolyn Machaffie jigging for panfish.

Roscommon fishing: Mandolyn Machaffie jigging for panfish.

by Jack Payne

 

This is that magical time of the year where an outdoors person can be both an angler and a hunter. This is also the time where a boat is not required. Sure, a boat will get you into more water but waders or hip boots will suffice.

When the weather turns cold and the frogs start their migration into the muddy bottoms, this is the time to hit the shallows. Most lakes have an area where frogs live and the lakes with the largest areas will produce the most fish.

Some of our favorite lakes have walleye and bass in them while others just bass. Muskegon Lake and sections of the Grand River will have both, other lakes like Crooked Lake harbor lots of large bucket mouth bass.

Our best fishing comes after sundown and a stealth approach is required. Noise must be kept to a minimum and on a quiet and calm night you can hear the game fish feeding.

If you are wading I would suggest chest high waders. One wrong step with hip boots and your evening of fishing is over. If using a boat a push pole is real handy.

You can make a push pole out of a piece of plastic pipe. Take a piece of plastic pipe and fasten a two by four to the bottom with some angle brackets. The wood section only needs to be a foot long.

You can slowly push your way through the lily pads and the mud without messing up the trolling motor. This is also a very quiet way to maneuver at night.

In most cases the best fishing will be within ten feet of the shoreline but do remember to try the first drop-off bordering the shallow flats. This often is a drop from 6 or 7 feet maybe into a 10-foot hole. You need to develop your night vision and if a light is required a black ultra violet light works best. You can tie your lures on, unhook a fish and still see the shoreline.

Two types of baits work the best. A jig and pig combo is deadly and a stick bait lure hard to beat. With the jig and pig you are hopping in the jig with short lifts and a slow retrieve. Flip it out as tight to the shoreline as possible and then slowly work it back in. Part of the joy is hooking a shoreline bush or a lily pad. Goes with the turf so to speak.

The crankbaits need to be fished very slowly with a lot of pausing. Cast, let it sit for a few seconds, turn the crank once or twice, let it sit for a second or two and repeat. Vary it up but remember to pause.

On the jig and pig we like the color of black. We also like using real pork, with Uncle Josh a favorite. To us, the fish hold on to the real pork a bit longer than when using a plastic tail. Very helpful when fishing super slowly.

We use a lot of black and silver body baits and we use some with an orange belly. On all of the baits we paint a line on the side with glow in the dark paint. Give the lure a quick shot of light and it throws off an eerie glow.

Night fishing in the shallows is fun and exciting. Most nights it is downright quiet, almost mystical. Some nights the action is great and other nights we really work hard for a fish. What we do end up with is most often our largest fish of the year!

The next best thing about this type of fishing is that you can still be home by ten after enjoying a few hours on the water. Give it a shot before the permanent cold weather blows in.

 

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Weekly Fishing Tip

 

From the Michigan DNR 

 

*OUT-Weekly fishing tipAre you ready (and prepared) to go ice fishing?

 

Several parts of Michigan should hopefully have ice in the coming weeks, thus providing anglers with an opportunity to go fishing. Will you be joining them? Then it’s time to get prepared to head out safely on the ice!

Equipment

You’ll need some special equipment if you head out ice fishing. Take stock of your spud/auger, skimmer, shelter and apparel to have an enjoyable experience out on the water.

Techniques

Pick your preferred ice fishing technique and the species you wish to target and brush up on your skills. Whether that is hook-and-line fishing for bluegill, sunfish, perch or crappie; using tip-ups for northern pike, walleye or trout; or spearing for northern pike, muskellunge or sturgeon.

Safety

You should always stay safe when heading on the ice. These five tips can help: 1) Never fish alone; 2) Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return; 3) Always test the ice with a spud; 4) Take the appropriate emergency items, such as a lifejacket and ice picks; and 5) Take a cell phone with you in case you need to call for help. Keep it in a plastic, sealable bag to make sure it doesn’t get wet.

Want more information on ice fishing? Visit www.michigan.gov/fishing.

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Fish, Ice, and Lake Oxygen

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

 

It’s been a cold week. Snow arrived and icy roads have challenged drivers. One driver lost control at Ody Brook and slammed into a large spruce tree. It knocked the tree to a 60-degree angle. This Thanksgiving the driver can be thankful he was not injured. The tree probably will not survive. Meanwhile ice has formed on the ponds and protects the water world of nature niche life underneath.

Have you wondered why lakes don’t freeze from the bottom up? If they did, fish would be killed because lakes would freeze solid. Instead they freeze at the top and form an insolating layer that provides safe haven of aquatic wildlife for the winter.

Beavers construct a lodge they enter and exit from under the ice. Branches stored on the lake bottom are brought indoors for bark dinners. The top of beaver lodges rise above the ice allowing air exchange for breathing. A cozy lodge is insolated from extreme winter temperatures.

When fall arrives, air temperature cools and heats more rapidly than water. When cold air-cools surface water, the water sinks at 39-degrees F. At that temperature, water becomes its most compact and heaviest. It also holds the most oxygen possible at 39-degrees F. Because it is most dense, it sinks carrying oxygen to the depths of the lake.

During summer when sun warms water, a layer called a thermocline forms separating the upper and lower lake. The layer prevents easy movement between the lower (hypolimnion) and upper (epilimnion) lake water. Most plant life is above the thermocline, where sunlight reaches allowing photosynthesis to add oxygen to water during the day. At night, plants need oxygen and consume it for their needs. If algae and other plants are too abundant, they consume the oxygen and suffocate fish. This is known as summer kill.

Below the hypolimnion oxygen is slowly depleted because it is not replenished by photosynthesis or water mixing. Plants are few in the dark water, so they do not consume all the oxygen. Fish will often hang out at the thermocline, where they can cool down and slow metabolism so they require less oxygen and require less food.

In fall, the cold dense water holding oxygen sinks to the bottom of the lake oxygenating the entire lake. The movement stirs bottom sediments. I have seen Chrishaven Lake at the Christensen Nature Center look like someone stirred the lake with a giant stick in fall. The lake becomes filled with nutrient rich sediments. The activity destroys the thermocline and the lake becomes one even temperature body until the following summer when a new thermocline forms.

As water-cools below 39-degrees F, it begins to expand and does not sink. At 32-degrees F, the cold water freezes at the surface forming an insolating blanket. If windy, the blanket will not form smoothly. One can see if air was active or still by how smooth the ice layer is at the surface. Sun can penetrate ice allowing algae photosynthesis to continue. This plant growth will add oxygen to the water during the winter.

Sometimes when the snow layer on lakes is thin, light enters allowing algae to become abundant. When too abundant, the algae might consume all the oxygen during the long winter nights causing what anglers know as winter kill. At ice out in spring, dead fish float at the surface from winter suffocation. If the lake has streams flowing in, oxygen might be replenished. Fish will be found at these oxygen rich areas of the lake. A heavy snow blanket can prevent too much winter sun from entering the lake.

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

 

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Late fall whitefish

Tom DeMaat holding two whitefish.

Tom DeMaat holding two whitefish.

by Jack Payne

Late November and into December is an excellent time for whitefish and Menominee on the piers of Lake Michigan. Muskegon, Grand Haven, Port Sheldon, Holland, Saugatuck and South Haven are top piers starting in November and lasting through the winter. Fishing in the dark is best but cloudy days with a chop will produce fish.

In addition to these connecting waters, we have some dandy inland lakes. Most are up near Benzie County such as Crystal Lake but don’t forget Higgins Lake just north of Houghton Lake.

“Fishing conditions can be tough but the action rewarding,” said John Barr, a regular on the after dark whitefish crew. On top of the weather conditions these fish bite soft. Normally the best action takes place on the inside or channel side of the piers.

The first wave of whitefish feed heavily on the eggs from the king salmon. As the water cools and the steelhead move in some anglers switch to skein in hopes of catching both. Most whitefish anglers use a single egg when chasing this delightful and wary fish. Single eggs from a female steelhead are the best.

An egg sinker with a small orange or red bead just above a barrel swivel is the basic technique during daylight hours. A number 8, 10 or 12 egg hook tied to a leader completes the rig.

The ideal day has a chop similar to the perfect walleye day. The length of the leader is based on the size of the waves. Flat seas require a 6 to 8 foot leader. Two-foot waves work best with a 3-4 foot leader. Anything over 4 foot swells and a 6-inch leader works best.

Anglers need to hold their rods or keep a very close eye on the tip. One tap is about all that you will get before your bait becomes dinner. Savvy pier anglers often paint their rod tips with glow in the dark paint or some bright color for easier visibility. A seven to eight foot rod with a fast tip and a decent backbone works great regardless of the technique.

The Muskegon pier generally sees action before the other piers in West Michigan.  The action starts north and continues south with the cold water. Safety reasons dictate not to fish when the waves are crashing over or if they become icy.

Hopkins spoons are a favorite at night with the anglers. A long rod is used and most of the action is taken while vertically jigging. The smallest spoons that you can find work the best. Other good choices would include Kastmasters, Rapala and if you can find them the Zip Spoon from Blitzer Creek. We make our own using the Do It Molds and add glow in the dark tape with a red eye!

The key is to tick the bottom and lift up 6-12-inches. Drop down and repeat while paying very close attention for a hit. Snagging fish can be a problem with spoons and all snagged fish must be released. There is no size limit on whitefish or their cousin the Menominee.

The diehard anglers pull a shopping cart onto the pier. Most anglers mount PVC rod holders and carry a five-gallon pail. Inside the pail anglers carry tools and small plastic tackle boxes with all of required gear.

Parking is provided near the piers at all of the ports except Saugatuck. Saugatuck requires a mile walk from the Oval Beach in Douglas. Muskegon pier is the longest with a lot of riprap rock along the pier. South Haven pier borders the downtown district with plenty of parking and good lighting.

There are few fish that can match the quality of eating on a grill or in the broiler better than a whitefish. Some of the piers have a cable that you can lean over and not worry about falling in, and on others you need to pay close attention.

Remember to bring along a long-handled net or you will be lying on your belly sucking in Lake Michigan water while trying to net a fish. Been there and it was not fun. Give whitefish a try before the ice fishing season starts.

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