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Free fishing weekend this Saturday and Sunday


Adults and youths alike can have fun exploring Michigan’s winter fishing opportunities during the 2017 Winter #MiFreeFishingWeekend

Adults and youths alike can have fun exploring Michigan’s winter fishing opportunities during the 2017 Winter #MiFreeFishingWeekend

Everyone in Michigan is invited to fish for free Saturday, Feb. 18, and Sunday, Feb. 19, for the 2017 Winter Free Fishing Weekend. A license is not required to fish for those two days, but all other fishing regulations still apply.
These two days make up #MiFreeFishingWeekend—an annual effort to promote Michigan’s world-class fishing opportunities. While many individuals and families will bundle up and head out to fish for free on their own, the DNR points out that there are several organized events scheduled throughout the state to celebrate the weekend, too. Some of these events include:

  • Free Fishing Festival (Bay County) Feb. 18, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Join this annual event at the Saginaw Bay Visitor Center at Bay City State Recreation Area where tons of winter recreation activities are highlighted.
  • 8th annual Wakefield Volunteer Fire Department Ice Fishing Contest (Gogebic County) Feb. 18, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Participate in this annual ice fishing contest where lots of prizes are raffled off.
  • Wild about Winter Activity Day (Van Buren County) Feb. 18, 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. Visit the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in Mattawan for its Ice Fishing 101 course, held at three separate times. Additional on-site activities will include snowshoeing, a winter scavenger hunt and much more.
  • Family Ice Fishing (Wexford County) Feb. 18,  noon to 4 p.m. Come to the Carl T. Johnson Hunt and Fish Center in Cadillac for an on-the-ice experience and learn how to ice fish.

OUT-Free-fishing2-ice-safety-tipsPlease note that all events are subject to weather conditions. Even if there is no fishable ice in certain parts of the state this weekend, other types of fishing may be available. Also, during the 2017 Winter #MiFreeFishingWeekend no DNR Recreation Passport is required for entry to any state park or recreation area.

There are many other events scheduled in locations throughout the state. Information about these events, including those listed above, can be found at Michigan.gov/freefishing.

Michigan has celebrated the Winter Free Fishing Weekend every year since 1994. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing are a natural match.

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The lure of ice fishing strikes many anglers 


A couple of anglers enjoy their day ice fishing. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

A couple of anglers enjoy their day ice fishing. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Michigan is a place where anglers can take up their rod and fish year-round with the expectation of having fantastic experiences. Winter is no exception, with thousands of lakes open to ice fishing.

Although not everyone’s first pick for recreational activity, ice fishing attracts thousands of Michigan men and women—according to some estimates, roughly a fourth of all Michigan anglers say they fish through the ice—who brave winter weather to keep on fishing.

Many say they actually prefer fishing through the ice to the open-water sport.

“Ice fishing is a terrific way for the entire family to enjoy Michigan’s world-class fisheries during the winter season,” said Darren Kramer, northern Lake Michigan unit manager for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

An angler pulls a fish out of a hole. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

An angler pulls a fish out of a hole. Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Ice fishing can be as simple—or as complex—as an angler chooses to make it.

But for beginners, there’s not a lot to getting started. Anglers need just three things: something to make a hole in the ice with, something to clear that hole and keep it open, and something to fish with.

There are two basic tools for opening holes in the ice, spuds or augers. Spuds are long-handled tools with chisel-like heads used to gouge holes through the ice. A spud is all that’s needed when the ice is relatively thin.

As the ice thickens, however, an auger—a corkscrew-like device with cutting blades on the end—allows anglers to drill a hole. As the ice gets extremely thick, power augers driven by batteries or small gasoline engines are extremely helpful.

Once a hole is opened, it must be cleared. A skimmer or slush scoop—which resembles a ladle with holes in the cup—can remove slush and ice from the water surface in the open hole. Plastic skimmer or scoop models are inexpensive and available wherever fishing tackle is sold.

The vast majority of anglers fish the same way they do during open-water season—with a rod or pole. It can be as simple as a thin dowel with a line attached to the end or it can be a high-dollar rod made of modern materials with an equally expensive reel. There are countless options in between.

Many anglers begin with simple fiberglass rods with small spring-tension spools to hold line, and they never see the need to upgrade.

“I think that one of the real attractions to ice fishing is that an angler doesn’t need to buy a lot of expensive gear to get started and try it,” Kramer said.

Anglers can fish through the ice for every species that swims in Michigan, though they may not be able to keep everything they catch. (Largemouth and smallmouth bass, for instance, must be immediately released from Jan. 1 to the Friday before Memorial Day.)

And although you can catch all species on the simplest gear, all sorts of tackle exists for anglers who specialize in particular species.

The most popular fish targeted by ice fishermen are the same as those sought by most open-water anglers: panfish. Bluegills, sunfish, yellow perch and crappie are all highly sought as they are relatively easy to catch and make fine table fare.

“Panfish are terrific for introducing kids, family and friends to ice fishing for the first time,” Kramer said.

Small weighted hooks, such as tear drops or jigs, tipped with insect larva are the most popular baits, though some prefer minnows, especially for perch or crappie. But some eschew bait completely, although they use weighted flies or artificial lures, such as tiny spoons or plastic-tipped jigs.

Walleye are among the more glamorous quarry of anglers. Plenty of others prefer to fish for the various species of trout. Still others prefer pike or muskellunge, which brings us to other forms of fishing beyond rods and reels.

Tip-ups are devices that are set on the ice above the hole and are used to suspend bait in the water column below. Tip-ups feature spring-loaded flags that “tip up” when the bait is taken, alerting the angler to the strike.

Tip-ups are most commonly associated with pike fishing, though they can be used for any number of species – walleye, trout, even perch.

“Fishing with tip-ups is a great way to move around while ice fishing, especially on cold blustery days,” said Cory Kovacs, DNR acting Lake Superior unit manager. “The excitement of running for the flag is what really ‘warms’ the anglers.”

Because anglers are allowed to fish three lines, many set tip-ups while actively fishing with rods. Others—particularly  those who target pike, muskie or sturgeon—prefer spearing.

Simply put, they cut a large hole in the ice, usually with an ice saw or chainsaw, and sit beside it, waiting for a fish to swim into range.

Most spearing takes place inside shelters, as it’s easier to see into the water when the light is blocked. This has given rise to the term “dark-house” spearing, and many spear fishermen build comfortable shacks (commonly called shanties) to fish from.

Most anglers use portable shacks they can drag out with them and remove from the ice when they leave for shore.

Anglers who spear typically use decoys—either live or artificial—to lure fish into range. There are many restrictions to spear fishing, so be sure to consult the Michigan Fishing Guide for information.

Although many rod-and-reel anglers are content to sit on a bucket (which doubles as a gear carrier) on the ice while they fish, it can be miserable—even unbearable – during the depths of winter.

Portable shanties not only block the wind and elements, they allow anglers to use small heaters, making the experience less physically taxing.

Either way, it’s important to dress for the weather, even if you’re fishing from a well-appointed, insulated shanty. It can be awfully cold getting there.

Moisture-wicking underwear helps keep anglers dry. You can work up a real sweat trudging across the ice, especially if you’re dragging a shanty or carrying heavy equipment, and wool clothing continues to provide warmth even when wet. Modern, insulated outerwear made for ice anglers is sure to keep you warm.

Waterproof boots are de rigueur, and moisture-wicking socks, under wool socks, are helpful too. A thermos of a hot beverage—alcohol is not recommended—will help keep anglers warm on the ice.

Those interested in ice fishing, but who are wary of the learning curve, might find it helpful to attend one of the Hard Water Schools offered this winter by the DNR at the Carl T. Johnson Hunt and Fish Center at Mitchell State Park in Cadillac.

Programs are scheduled for Jan. 28 and Feb. 25. These sessions, led by seasoned anglers and DNR staffers will teach you everything you need to know to get started ice fishing, and include an afternoon on the ice with hands-on instruction.

To register for the Hard Water Schools, visit www.michigan.gov/outdoorskills.

Another opportunity to try ice fishing is during the DNR’s Free Fishing Weekend Feb. 18-19. During this weekend, anglers may fish without having to purchase a fishing license. However, all fishing regulations on daily bag limits and other provisions still apply.

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Free fishing weekend Feb. 13-14


This weekend affords anglers of all ages opportunities to get outdoors and fish for free as part of the DNR's 2016 Winter Free Fishing Weekend.

This weekend affords anglers of all ages opportunities to get outdoors and fish for free as part of the DNR’s 2016 Winter Free Fishing Weekend.

Everyone in Michigan – including residents and non-residents – can fish without a license Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 13 and 14, though all other fishing regulations still apply.

Michigan has celebrated the Winter Free Fishing Weekend every year since 1994 as a way to promote awareness of the state’s vast aquatic resources. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing are a perfect match.

“Michigan offers many enjoyable winter outdoor activities, and fishing is among the most popular options,” said Bill Moritz, DNR director. “We encourage everyone to get outside this February and explore the angling opportunities available throughout the state – on your own, with your family or with some good friends.”

Organized Winter Free Fishing Weekend activities are being scheduled in communities across the state to assist with public participation. These activities are coordinated by a variety of organizations including constituent groups, schools, local and state parks, businesses and others.

A full listing of activities can be found online at michigan.gov/freefishing.

Also, during the 2016 Winter Free Fishing Weekend no DNR Recreation Passport is required for vehicle entry to any state park or recreation area.

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No fishing license needed this weekend 


June 13-14

There’s lots of fun to be had this weekend in Michigan as no fishing licenses are needed for residents and non-residents! This Saturday, June 13 and Sunday, June 14 make up the 2015 Summer Free Fishing Weekend, an annual effort to promote Michigan’s numerous fishing opportunities.

While many individuals and families will head out to fish for free on their own this weekend there are also numerous organized events scheduled throughout the state to celebrate as well. Various locations throughout Michigan will host scheduled events; including things like fishing derbies/tournaments, festivals, instructional sessions, and much more! More than 25 counties in the state have opportunities available.

If you’d like to see all of the events occurring this weekend, visit the official 2015 Summer Free Fishing Weekend event chart online, or plan a trip to your favorite fishing hole and prepare to reel in a big one!

For even more information about the 2015 Summer Free Fishing Weekend please visit michigan.gov/freefishing.

Please note: all other fishing regulations still apply this weekend. Reference the 2015 Michigan Fishing Guide for more information.

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Enjoy Michigan’s ‘Summer Free Fishing Weekend’ June 9-10


The Department of Natural Resources reminds everyone the annual Summer Free Fishing Weekend is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, June 9-10. On that weekend, everyone – residents and non-residents alike – can fish without a license, though all other fishing regulations still apply.

Since 1986, Michigan has annually celebrated the Summer Free Fishing Weekend as a way to promote awareness of the state’s vast aquatic resources and the sheer fun of fishing. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, 36,000 miles of rivers and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing go hand in hand.

“This summer’s Free Fishing Weekend is a great way to get outdoors and experience some of the finest freshwater fishing in the world,” said DNR Director Rodney Stokes. “Fishing is such an affordable activity – anyone can pursue it – so get out this June and try it yourself, for free!”

To encourage involvement in Free Fishing Weekends, organized activities are being scheduled in communities across the state. These activities are coordinated by a variety of organizations including constituent groups, schools, local and state parks, businesses and others.

There’s still plenty of time for communities to plan their own Free Fishing Weekend events, or to find an activity occurring nearby. Visit www.michigan.gov/freefishing for all things related to this unique weekend, including help on event planning and promotion, a registration form for official events, and a chart identifying activity locations.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr.

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Free fishing weekend Feb. 18 and 19




The LOLA Ice Fishing Derby has been canceled this year due to warmer weather. According to organizer Pam Bradfield, they will are planning a spring event. Post photo by L. Allen.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reminds everyone the annual Winter Free Fishing Weekend is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 18 and Sunday, Feb. 19. On that weekend, everyone can fish without a license, though all other fishing regulations still apply.

Michigan has been celebrating Winter Free Fishing Weekend annually since 1994 as a way to promote awareness of the state’s vast aquatic resources. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, 36,000 miles of rivers and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing are a natural match.”Michigan offers some of the finest freshwater fishing in the world, including during the winter months,” said DNR Director Rodney Stokes. “Fishing is an inexpensive activity anyone can pursue, as an individual or as a family. We encourage you to get out this February and experience it for yourself, for free!”To encourage involvement in Free Fishing Weekends, organized activities are being scheduled in communities across the state. These activities are coordinated by a variety of organizations including: constituent groups, schools, local and state parks, businesses and others.

Find an event occurring in your community. Visit the newly revamped website www.michigan.gov/freefishing for all things related to this unique weekend; including where you can find help on event planning and promotion and where you can identify events in your area or register an official event. 


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