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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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DNR reminds public of ice-safety measures


With warm and rainy weather patterns seen in recent weeks in many parts of the state, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources urges ice anglers and snowmobilers to remember that no ice is safe ice.

“When temperatures reach into the 40s, as they have recently in many areas, thawing will occur and that will definitely weaken ice,” said Sgt. Steve Orange, DNR Law Enforcement Division’s recreational safety, education and enforcement supervisor. “It’s very important to know and follow guidelines to determine how ice looks and feels so that your day of ice fishing or snowmobiling is enjoyable and safe. Ignoring warning signs of weakened ice can result in a life-threatening incident.”

The DNR does not recommend the standard “inch-thickness” guide used by many anglers and snowmobilers to determine ice safety, because ice seldom forms at a uniform rate.

Orange said a warm spell may take several days to weaken the ice; however, when temperatures vary widely, causing the ice to thaw during the day and refreeze at night, the result is a weak, “spongy” or honeycombed ice that is unsafe.

Ice strength can’t be determined by its look, thickness, the temperature or whether or not it’s covered with snow, Orange said.

When venturing onto ice, remember:

  • Clear ice that has a bluish tint is the strongest. Ice formed by melted and refrozen snow appears milky, and is very porous and weak.
  • Ice covered by snow always should be presumed unsafe. Snow acts like an insulating blanket and slows the freezing process. Ice under the snow will be thinner and weaker. A snowfall also can warm up and melt existing ice.
  • If there is slush on the ice, stay off. Slush ice is only about half as strong as clear ice and indicates the ice is no longer freezing from the bottom.

Although it’s a personal decision, the DNR does not recommend ice anglers take a car or truck onto the ice,” Orange said.

Anyone venturing onto the ice is urged to wear a life jacket, wear bright colors, bring a cell phone and bring along a set of ice picks or ice claws, which can be found in most sporting goods stores.

If ice does break, Orange offered the following tips:

  • Try to remain calm.
  • Don’t remove winter clothing. Heavy clothes won’t drag you down, but instead can trap air to provide warmth and flotation. This is especially true with a snowmobile suit.
  • Turn in the water toward the direction you came from; that is probably the strongest ice.
  • If you have them, dig the points of the picks into the ice and, while vigorously kicking your feet, pull yourself onto the surface by sliding forward on the ice.
  • Roll away from the area of weak ice. Rolling on the ice will distribute your weight to help avoid breaking through again.
  • Get to shelter, heat, warm dry clothing and warm, nonalcoholic and noncaffeinated drinks.
  • Call 911 and seek medical attention if you feel disoriented, have uncontrollable shivering or have any other ill effects that may be symptoms of hypothermia (the life-threatening drop in the body’s core temperature).

Learn more about ice safety on the DNR website www.michigan.gov/dnr.

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Winter fishing in Michigan


*OUT-Winter fishing youth ice fishing 2014_original

From the DNR

Just because cold weather has arrived in Michigan doesn’t mean you have to put your fishing activities on hold. Many anglers look forward to the opportunities ice fishing pro vides them during this time of year, with some claiming it is the best time to go fishing!

What’s great about winter is that anglers can get just about anywhere on a lake during the ice fishing season and virtually every fish that’s available in the summer can also be caught through the ice. In fact, some are even caught more frequently in the winter.

New to ice fishing? Don’t be intimated by the idea of heading out! Learn about the kind of equipment you need and the safety precautions you should take in our Ice Fishing, the Coolest Sport Around article, found at Michigan.gov/dnr.

Do you already go ice fishing? Consider taking on a new challenge by targeting a different species. Popular winter species include bluegill, crappie, smelt, walleye and yellow perch (among others). Anglers use a variety of ice fishing techniques to target these species, including hook-and-line, tip-ups and spearing.

Learn about these fishes and the techniques needed to catch them in the winter by checking out the “Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them” section of the DNR’s website.

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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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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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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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Winter arrives for ice fishing derby


Tom Enbody caught the biggest pike last weekend at 40-1/8 inches and 19.02 pounds.

Tom Enbody caught the biggest pike last weekend at 40-1/8 inches and 19.02 pounds.

Winter showed up just in time for the 32nd annual ice fishing derby in Spencer Township last weekend. But the winter storm may have kept some people away.

The Land of Lakes Association holds the event each February at eight area lakes—Maston, Little Muskelunge, Blue, Black, Friant, Cedar, Little Lincoln, and Lincoln Lake.

“We had 151 people signed up to fish, which is down over 100 from previous years, possibly due to poor weather conditions,” said former activities director Pam Bradfield. Nike Nienhuis is the new activities director.

The winners are:

Pike: Tom Enbody caught one at 40-1/8 inches and 19.02 pounds.

Bluegill: Lee Enbody at 9-3/8 inches.

Speck: Josh Morrison at 13-3/8 inches.

Perch: Ben Hoofman at 10-1/4 inches.

The smallest fish caught was a three-inch bluegill by Riley Eastman. The elusive bluegill got away again this year.

Mary Bolton won the grand prize fishing shanty from Tows Country Store.

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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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Ice fishing derby celebrates 30th year


Tom Swanson with the winning Pike at 31-3/4 inches.

By Judy Reed

The snow and ice may be disappearing this week, but it was perfect for the 30th annual Land of Lakes Association (LOLA) ice fishing derby in Spencer Township last weekend.

“The weather was great, no problems,” said activities director Pam Bradfield. “The wind kept the thaw down, so it wasn’t too sloppy.”

The annual event held at eight area lakes—Maston, Little Muskelunge, Blue, Black, Friant, Cedar, Little Lincoln, and Lincoln Lakes—had just under 200 people registered in the tournament. “That’s a little slower than in the past, but there were other events happening in the communities also, not to mention the poor economy,” said Bradfield.

And the winners are…
Blue Gill – Chop ingraham 9 1/4 inches
Speck -Byron Andres 13 3/8 inches
Perch – Woody Norton 10 1/8 inches
Pike – Tom Swanson 31 3/4 inches
Smallest fish caught — Ben Enbody with a 3 inch Blue Gill

3-Man team winners were Blain Beemer, Roy Beemer and Ernie Jensen taking the traveling “Green Hornet Pole” for best weight.

According to Bradfield, there were no walleye caught and no trash fish brought in this year.

“Everyone had a great time even though the fish were elusive. Now spring can officially begin!” she said.

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