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Tag Archive | "Lake Michigan"

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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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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Catch of the Week!


Sierra Smith, 9, went fishing on a charter boat with a friend on Lake Michigan at Holland in August and caught this nice salmon, estimated at 10 pounds. “Sierra loves to fish but doesn’t get to very often, so she was really excited when she pulled this one in,” said Sierra’s grandmother, Rose Mary Smith.
Congratulations, Sierra, you made the Post catch of the week!

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