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Tag Archive | "outdoors"

What kind of squirrel is this?


Kelly Roush, of Cedar Springs, sent us this photo of an odd-looking squirrel. At first glance, it almost looks like a chipmunk. But it’s not. It’s called a thirteen-lined ground squirrel. “He was in my backyard eating the birdseed that was on the ground,” she said. “I’ve never seen one or heard of one.”

A thirteen-line ground squirrel enjoys some birdseed.

We passed the photo on to Ranger Steve Mueller and he agreed—it is a thirteen-lined ground squirrel. He said they are a grassland species, and he used to see them in the grassland at the Howard Christensen Nature Center, as well as at his home at Ody Brook. “Too much shrubby vegetation grew…I have been clearing habitat at Ody Brook and might get them again as I open it more,” he said.

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Animal photo bomb


People aren’t the only one who will stick their head into a photo where it doesn’t belong.

Jackie Gage, of the City of Cedar Springs, sent us this photo of a black squirrel with a brown tail. “As I opened my blinds to the slider this morning, there was a black squirrel with a light brown tail out there at my buffet tray so I went to get my cell phone,” she wrote. So she came back and took the picture. But later she saw something funny. “I didn’t see this visitor at all until I enlarged the picture,” she wrote. “I never saw him come or leave either! What a surprise!”

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Dozens of walleye confiscated after tip


From the Michigan DNR

Three walleye anglers fishing together last Thursday, April 18, on the Detroit River, face losing their fishing licenses after being caught with 80 walleye—65 over the river’s legal daily limit of five per person, per day.

Conservation Officer Jaime Salisbury is pictured with 80 walleye that were poached from the Detroit River Thursday, April 18. Photo courtesy of the MDNR.

An anonymous tip to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Report All Poaching Hotline Thursday afternoon said that three males were suspected of exceeding the walleye limit while fishing the Detroit River. The caller provided a description of the angler’s vehicle and said they were driving from Detroit toward Grand Rapids on I-96 west.

Conservation Officers Peter Purdy and Jaime Salisbury were on patrol in northern Livingston County when they received the notification from the RAP Hotline dispatcher.

After patrolling I-96 for about an hour, Purdy and Salisbury observed a vehicle matching the description provided by the caller. When the driver failed to use a turn signal while changing lanes, the officers stopped the vehicle along the freeway near Okemos Road in Ingham County.

“We asked the driver to be honest and tell us how many walleye the three men had in their possession,” said Salisbury. “The driver hung his head and stated, ‘too many.’”

The three males—a 28-year-old from Byron Center, a 38-year-old from Allendale and a 30-year-old from Jenison—admitted to fishing the Detroit River earlier in the day and that they had all caught and kept too many fish.

“Conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers,” said Chief Gary Hagler, DNR Law Enforcement Division. “This gives them the ability to enforce all Michigan laws. In this case, Officers Purdy and Salisbury were able to initiate a traffic stop to seek information about this poaching tip. I want to thank the individual who informed the RAP Hotline about this poaching event; without their assistance, this case may not have been possible.”

The driver received a citation for failing to use a turn signal; all three men were issued tickets for possessing an over limit of walleye. An Ingham County judge will determine the reimbursement fee and whether the poachers should lose their fishing licenses.

Reimbursement is calculated by weighing each individual fish and then assessing at $10 per pound.

The legal walleye limit on the Detroit River is five 15-inch walleye per day. In addition to one day’s daily limit, a person may possess an additional two daily possession limits of fish taken during previous fishing days, provided that the additional limits of fish are processed (canned, cured by smoking or drying, or frozen).

If you witness or suspect a natural resource violation, call or text the Report All Poaching hotline, available 24/7, at 800-292-7800. Learn more about Michigan’s conservation officers at Michigan.gov/ConservationOfficers.

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Deafening


Ranger Steve’s Nature NicheBy Ranger Steve Mueller

Little ponds that dry by mid-summer exude great volume to deafen you at night. One of my great joys is to approach one these ponds in spring. One hears a great cacophony but the pond suddenly becomes silent when approached. If the pond is large enough, the noise continues from the far side. 

Adult Spring Peeper.

Walk slowly around the pond and the noise will cease. If you are moving slow enough, the noise will begin again behind you. Sit and listen. Frogs will quiet with your approach but after a short time of sitting, one frog will sing and others will join. It is breeding season for frogs and they gather from surrounding areas to mate and lay egg masses in temporary vernal ponds. Vernal ponds dry or almost dry by midsummer. 

They are the most important breeding areas for most frogs because egg predators like fish do not survive in ponds that dry. Frogs call with songs unique to their species. Species that deafen us are only the size of your little finger tip. So many gather in the small pond that their joint volume hurts our ears. 

The smallest frogs are spring peepers that spend the summer away from the pond feeding on insects. Their song is a single peep repeated over and over throughout the night. When calling males get hold of a female, they squeeze eggs from her tiny body. His sperm is released on the emerging eggs that are in a jelly mass. The jelly encasing the eggs absorbs water and swells to become as large as the frog or bigger. 

Inside the jelly mass, eggs are two-toned. They have counter-shading with dark tops and light undersides. If they are laid in locations like permanent ponds and this occurs, they are somewhat invisible to fish from underneath because the light color blends with the light sky. From above the dark color blends with the dark pond bottom hiding them from predators. The jelly masses are attached to vegetation holding them in place. 

By the time the developing embryos hatch, the jelly encasing them has become green with cyanobacteria that digests the jelly. The tadpole coming from the egg can break free from the jelly without being stuck and killed. As a polliwog, some nutrition is absorbed from the tail. It feeds on floating aquatic vegetation as an herbivore unlike its adult parents that are predators on insects. The adult and kids do not compete for food. As the tadpole grows legs, its tail shrinks and the diet changes from vegetation to animal matter like insects or other invertebrates. By the time the pond dries, tadpoles become frogs and move into the woods. 

Another small frog that shares the vernal pond is the chorus frog. It is as tiny as spring peepers but can be recognized from the peepers by having three stripes on its back from head to rear. Spring peepers have an X on their back. A chorus frog song can be imitated by rubbing a thumb over the teeth of a comb. Ten thousand of these singing with ten thousand spring peepers is painful to our ears at close range. 

A frog found in breeding ponds that is several times larger is the wood frog. It is brown and has a dark Lone Ranger mask over its eyes. Their song sounds like ducks quacking. Their abundance in ponds is great but I think they are fewer than the smaller frogs. They too can be found throughout the forest in summer. 

Green and bull frogs need permanent ponds for egg laying because most young take two summers to mature. They breed in temporary ponds but survival for their offspring is precarious. Survival will be touch and go depending on how long water remains in the pond. Some vernal ponds persist all year but shrink greatly in size. If fortunate the large frogs might survive the winter in small fish-free pools. American toads breed in almost any water they find. Young develop quickly but mortality is high because tiny breeding pools often dry quickly.

The little frogs lay eggs in permanent ponds and bogs where some survive. If they are away from open water with fish they might be protected for development. Few tadpoles survive to become breeding adults. Populations are declining for several reasons but a big one is the filling or draining of temporary ponds. We can share the world with them by allowing vernal ponds to exist and by using few or no pesticides in nature niches.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.


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Distance disappears


Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche.  By Ranger Steve Mueller

John Muir wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

Picture by Jim Markham.

The Great Lake Restoration Fund is hitched to the border wall funding. The federal budget President Trump proposed plans to significantly cut environmental protection funding. Farmland protection is hitched to the border wall and protections are waived. Eagle protection is hitched to the border wall and waived. Many environmental protection laws Congress established from 1899 to present are being waived without due process. Eight billion dollars is proposed to continue funding the border wall by taking money largely from two areas of the Federal budget. Environmental Protection is one of the two.

The nature niche column focuses on environmental concerns having direct effect on our lives locally. PFAS’s are hitched to the border wall. Safe drinking water is hitched to the wall. The Kent ISD superintendent told me in 2005 that environmental education was no longer a priority in America when they closed the Howard Christensen Nature Center. He said that does not mean it is not important. It means it is no longer a priority. HCNC is now a 501.c3 primarily operated independently by volunteers. 

Hopefully you will voice to legislators your view regarding environmental protection funding priority. The Great Lakes Restoration fund is critical for our regional economy, health, and future. Perhaps people do not make the connection between eagle protections discussed in last week’s nature niche and our own health. The current issue of PFAS in drinking water should provide awareness to the importance of environmental monitoring and protection. Defunding the Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental programs to build a wall does not provide sound ecological or economic reasoning. 

$77 million dollars’ worth of cocaine was recently confiscated coming through a border check point. Authorities maintain that is how most drugs and undocumented immigrants access the United States. A border wall will direct money away from environmental health protection in our local community without effectively addressing the immigration and drug trafficking problem where it is most prevalent. Drug trafficking and illegal immigration are hitched to Great Lakes ecosystem health and sustainability making distance disappear.

Budgeting money for a fence will have minimal desired effect compared to enhancing security at entry check points as a priority. The shift in priority is waiving laws protecting communities throughout America. 

Laws Waived for The Border Wall (See photograph provided by Jim Markham):

The National Environmental Policy Act; The Endangered Species Act; The Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act); The National Historic Preservation Act; The Migratory Bird Treaty Act; The Archeological Resources Protection Act; The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act; The Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988; The Safe Drinking Water Act; The Noise Control Act; The Solid Waste Disposal Act; The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act; The Archeological and Historic Preservation Act; The Historical Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act; The Farmland Protection Policy Act; The Coastal Zone Management Act; The Federal Land Policy and Management Act; The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act; National Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956; The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act; The Administrative Procedure Act; The River and Harbors Act of 1899; The Eagle Protection Act; The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act; and the American Religious Freedom Act.

It is a preferred joy to write about the beauty and nature niche intricacies found in yards, neighborhoods, and region. I am sure that is most pleasant to read. For beauty and niche intricacies to thrive, it is important to share your views regarding environmental protection and our natural heritage with Congressional Representatives and Senators. Distance disappears because you are hitched to everything in the universe. Keep healthy nature close whether near or far and your great grandchildren will thank you.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.


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Coyote sightings and tips to prevent conflicts


A coyote resting on the winter landscape. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This time of year, it’s not uncommon to hear about an uptick in coyote sightings around the state. That’s because coyotes are more visible during their breeding season (January to March), as well as in the spring and summer months when they’re caring for pups.

Coyotes are extremely adaptable and can be found just about everywhere: in forests, fields, farmlands, backyards, neighborhoods and cities. They’ve learned to survive in urban landscapes throughout Michigan. When food sources are available—things like trash bins, bird feeders and pet food—coyotes may become more comfortable around people.

To minimize potential conflicts and protect your small pets, DNR furbearer specialist Adam Bump has a few suggestions.

“The first thing to remember is never to intentionally feed or try to tame a coyote; leave wildlife in the wild,” Bump said. “Remove those appealing food sources, fence off your gardens and fruit trees, clear out wood and brush piles, and accompany your pets outdoors rather than letting them roam free.”

Additionally, there are some hunting and removal options:

Coyote hunting is open year-round. Michigan residents need a valid base license to hunt them. See the current-year Fur Harvester Digest for coyote hunting and trapping regulations.

On private property where coyotes are doing or about to do damage, a property owner or designee can take coyotes year-round; a license or written permit is not needed.

A permitted nuisance control business can assist in the safe removal of problem animals in urban or residential areas.

Get more tips on understanding this species in the Coexisting with Urban Coyotes video or on the DNR’s coyotes webpage. Questions? Contact Hannah Schauer, 517-388-9678.

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Michigan’s early state parks development


By Casey Warner, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

A horse-drawn carriage is shown on Mackinac Island in 1887. (Courtesy Archives of Michigan)

Michigan is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its Department of Natural Resources-managed state parks system this year.

The celebration is centered around the formation of the Michigan State Park Commission by the state Legislature on May 12, 1919. The commission was given responsibility for overseeing, acquiring and maintaining public lands and establishing Michigan’s state parks system.

However, 25 years before legislation established the state park commission, the federal government gifted the Mackinac Island property it owned to the state in 1895. The island was designated as Michigan’s first state park under the Mackinac State Park Commission.

The Arch Rock at Mackinac Island is shown being visited by a group of sightseers circa 1890. (Mackinac State Historic Parks photo)

“In 1907, the community of Mackinaw City donated to the state a village park, the site of Fort Michilimackinac,” said Steve Brisson, deputy director of the Mackinac State Park Commission. “Two years later, it was declared Michilimackinac State Park, and placed under the Mackinac Island State Park Commission’s care.”

Mackinac Island State Park and Michilimackinac State Park are both official state parks, per their authorizing legislation, but they remain separate from the park system managed by the DNR.

Mackinac Island State Park

Mackinac Island—historically a gathering place for Native people and then French fur traders and missionaries and later the home of soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac—had become a popular tourist destination by the late 19th century.

“By the time of the Civil War, lake boats were bringing visitors to Mackinac to enjoy the ‘healthy air’ or explore the island’s natural wonders,” David A. Armour, who served as deputy director of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission for many years, wrote in his book 100 Years at Mackinac: 1895-1995.

Armour continues: “Such was the growing reputation of Mackinac Island that Thomas W. Ferry, a Mackinac boy who had grown up to become a U.S. Senator, spearheaded a move to have Congress designate the government land on Mackinac Island as a national park. He succeeded, and in 1875, three years after Yellowstone had become the United States’ first national park, Mackinac became the second. Set aside ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,’ the 911 acres outside the 104-acre military reservation were to be maintained by the soldiers who garrisoned Fort Mackinac.”

Almost 20 years later, the U.S. Army decided to close Fort Mackinac. At the time, the National Park Service didn’t exist, and all national parks were under the umbrella of the War Department.

“While Mackinac was a beautiful and pleasant post enjoyed by the soldiers stationed there, it had no remaining military importance, and its troops were needed in Sault Ste. Marie to guard the canal there,” Armour wrote. “Without the troops, who would care for the national park?”

In February 1895, Senator James McMillian—urged on by a group of Mackinac citizens who wanted the island’s government lands kept in public ownership rather than sold—introduced an appropriation bill amendment that would turn the military reservation and the buildings and lands of the national park over to the state of Michigan for use as a state park.

“Congress passed the bill on March 2, with the added stipulation that the land would revert to the United States if it ever ceased to be used for park purposes,” Armour wrote. “Michigan had no state park system, but the state Legislature acted quickly, and by joint resolution on May 31, 1895, created the Mackinac Island State Park Commission to manage Michigan’s first state park.”

The lands of the military reservation, Fort Mackinac and the national park were formally transferred to the state Sept. 16, 1895.

“The state had acquired a treasure,” Armour wrote.

Today, Mackinac Island State Park includes the 14 original buildings of Fort Mackinac, which were built by the British military starting in 1780, as well as several other historic structures and about 1,800 acres of land.

More than 80 percent of Mackinac Island is state park property, managed by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission.

To learn more about Mackinac Island State Park, visit MackinacParks.com.

Next week: Interlochen State Park.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series of Showcasing the DNR stories to mark the centennial creation of the Michigan State Park Commission, which was established by the state Legislature on May 12, 1919, paving the way for our state parks system managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The DNR is celebrating this milestone throughout the year with special events, podcasts, historical stories, videos, geocaching and more. Find more details at Michigan.gov/StateParks100.

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Everyday Wonders


Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Every day brings newness from what were yesterday’s normal everyday events. We might ask if anything has changed in the past 24 hours, week or month. Things are different from a month ago and the wonders of change capture our attention as nature’s progression transitions into April.

The “plump robin-sized” American Woodcocks perform a ground dance by stomping feet and twisting from side to side in evening’s last glow. Eyes bulge from the side of the head looking in opposite directions. How is it they avoid confusion from seeing two different views of the world at the same time? They see nearly everything on each side but combine the scenes into one understandable picture.

They benefit from seeing in every direction at once. It becomes difficult for predators to approach unnoticed. For mating, the bird stomps feet and turns from side to side. It makes a nasal buzz called pneeting every few seconds in evening’s dusk. I count pneets of the bird that is usually not in view. My ears triangulate the direction and distance to the sound in the brushy field.

I dare not approach for fear of stopping the spring dance. The number of pneets has reached 17 and stopped. The long-billed bird flies toward me at a low climbing angle. I get to see its long bill piercing the darkening sky ahead of its plump body. It does not see me as it concentrates on a series of climbing spirals over the field. Short stubby wings are in rapid flutter as the bird reaches higher altitude with each spiral. It becomes difficult to keep track of the dark spot shrinking in size with each successive upward loop toward heaven. It seems the woodcock is on an invisible spiral staircase that it climbs with ease. I run to where it left the ground while it is in the air. On its zigzag return to Earth, I will be close to where it will continue its ground dance.

While it is in the air, I invariably lose sight of it as it fades from view into high clouds or haze of the darkening sky. Suddenly I hear a twittering sound that indicates it reached its flight apex and is now plummeting earth bound. I scan for the bird in sky dive. When it is well on its way downward, I catch a view. Before the long bill pierces the ground, leaving a dead bird’s body sticking up like a sucker ball on the end of a candy stick, it levels its downward flight before crashing and safely lands.

Safely on the ground, it pneets with more foot stomping and turns from side to side. As the evening sky darkens the bird spends longer on the ground and the number of pneets between aerial flights increases. Their antics impress me more than TV mysteries. It has been nearly 50 years that I have watched the spring ritual and still do not know mating details. Somewhere a male and female mate.

Friends have found ground nests and photographed females sitting on eggs in a forest or shrub thicket. I have found recently hatched young running about soon after gaining freedom from the cramped quarters of eggshells. My presence has caused these little fuzz balls to lay still and flat on the ground in hopes that I will not see or eat them. Several young lay still nearby as I photographed. Most will not survive to perform next spring’s mating dance. During the lifetime of a mated pair, most offspring will not survive.

American Woodcocks populations seem stable. Having four to five young annually during a four to six-year life span is enough to maintain the population but habitat is decreasing in our area. At Ody Brook, we have maintained suitable nature niche habitat to meet woodcock needs. Once a year in late October, I mow an upland dancing ground to ready it for spring. Little Cedar Creek’s muddy floodplain is kept natural. Woodcocks probe their long bills deep into mud in search of worms and insects. Muddy lowland shrub thickets along creeks are essential as are upland fields for mating. Clearing along creeks for a manicured lawn and view reduces woodcock populations as well as eliminates a multitude of plants and animal communities. Share space with life on Earth. Grandchildren will appreciate your efforts.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche: Itty Bitty Sleeper


Ranger Steve

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Being hard to find has an advantage when you are a tasty morsel. Consider how tasty you are to female mosquitoes. Being thousands of times larger than a mosquito makes you an easy target. You make yourself an even easier target by expelling carbon dioxide and by giving off heat. If you quit breathing, mosquitoes will lose interest and your heat will quickly dissipate.

I do not recommend that tactic to avoid mosquitoes. Animals have many adaptations that actually provide improved survival chances. Being small is one advantage. It is difficult to find a creature that is less than one-fourth of an inch long. When the creature does not move for months, it makes it even more difficult to find.

The creature I am describing ties a willow leaf to a twig so, when fall leaf drop arrives, the leaf stays on the shrub. Silk from salivary glands becomes a strong binding thread when exposed to air.

During the summer months, this insect might have three broods of young. Summer broods hatch from a minute eggs and begin eating willow leaves. If fortunate, they are not eaten by Blue-winged Warblers, Indigo Buntings, ants, or stink bugs. It will pupate and transform from caterpillar to butterfly.

People often refer to the pupa as a resting stage but it is not. Tremendous work of changing its body from caterpillar to winged adult is accomplished in the chrysalis (pupa). Little rest takes place. If it is warm, the pupa will transform more rapidly and chances of becoming food for mice or other things is reduced. Less time in the chrysalis increases survival chances. It is likely that less than one percent survive from egg to adult. A primary ecological function of the adult is reproduction to keep its nature niche occupied in willow thickets.

Late season reproduction differs from earlier generations that feed heavily and work to transform to an adult as quickly as possible. The late season animal is affected by changing day length. On hatching, the egg prepares for a long resting sleep. First it must tie a leaf petiole to a twig so the leaf does not fall off as autumn progresses. It then wraps and binds itself in the small leaf with silk.

In its sleep chamber, it waits for new spring leaf growth. If it escapes a multitude of animals looking to eat it, it might get to feed and grow in spring’s warming sunlight. If we have a wet fall or early spring, fungus or bacteria might kill the small upstart. Surviving is tough.

During the long winter months, the caterpillar is actually in a deep sleep called diapause. It is hormone induced caused by shortening days and lengthening nights that bring chemical changes to its body. The hormones result in behavior different from summer broods.

Try to find one of these sleeping Viceroy butterfly caterpillars in a brown coiled leaf that looks like a leaf fragment attached to a willow twig. It is the work of birds to search twigs all winter in an effort to eat the insect. I feed birds all winter in hope of distracting them enough to help some Viceroys survive to grow, pupate, become an adult, and reproduce here at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary.

The tiny caterpillar, about the size of a pencil’s visible lead, has a big challenge to survive a long winter sleep but its adaptations improve the odds. When it emerges from the crumbled leaf in spring, its color pattern looks much like a bird turd. When disturbed it arches its body and looks even more like a turd.

Develop observation skills and patience with the challenge of finding an overwintering caterpillar in its deep sleep. Take the family to a willow thicket and search the shrubs. My friend Ken is more skilled than me at finding them. The last one he found was on a willow shrub along the White Pine Trail.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Weekly Fishing Tip


Catching a catfish in Michigan

 

Rodney Akey with record catfish.

The new state record flathead catfish caught on May 22 on the St. Joseph River has brought a relatively unheralded species into the daylight. The record flathead, which weighed 49.81 pounds and measured 45.7 inches, was caught by Rodney Akey of Niles, who was fishing with an alewife for bait. That’s one of the main differences with fishing for the flathead than other catfish species. Anglers often use live baitfish when pursuing flatheads, unlike the earthworms, shrimp or various stink-bait concoctions many catfish anglers use.

Flatheads tend to live in slow-flowing rivers where they typically inhabit deep holes. Veteran flathead anglers often pursue them at night, fishing on the bottom in the leading edge of the hole or on the flats upstream. Large minnows, small sunfish or cut suckers are preferred baits. Summer is the most popular season to fish for flatheads; what better time to get out and try your luck!

For more information on fishing for catfish, check out the Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them section of the DNR’s website. Go to Michigan.gov/dnr and then click on fishing, then angler information, and then “Michigan Fish and How to Catch Them.”

 

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