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Tag Archive | "Pure Michigan"

Cold weather a hot time for minnow harvesters


 

Cut netting: A seine pulled tight to shore that contains minnows for sorting and harvesting. The net had been positioned in a cut off Saginaw Bay.

Cut netting: A seine pulled tight to shore that contains minnows for sorting and harvesting. The net had been positioned in a cut off Saginaw Bay.

From the Michigan DNR

Falling water temperatures can mean a lot of things to those who enjoy the outdoors.

Cold water increases interest in steelhead fishing, for instance, and decreases the focus on bass fishing. However, to Jeff Slancik of Bay County, cold water means just one thing: It’s time to catch minnows.

Slancik, 49, of Pinconning is a bait dealer whose business heats up when the weather cools down.

In cold weather, the baitfish head inshore from the Great Lakes and that’s when Slancik can catch them in large volume and keep them alive in ponds for the winter.“You have to wait until the water temperature comes down,” Slancik said. “I’d say in a typical year we start around Nov. 1 and you’re lucky to see past Dec. 1. We lost the first week of November this year because it was too warm. Once that water gets down to 40 degrees, you can catch minnows. The colder it is, the longer we can keep the minnows.”

Slancik has operated Jeff’s Bait Co. in Pinconning for 25 years. He’s one of a number of Michigan commercial bait wholesalers who catch minnows and sell them to distributors, who then get them to the bait shops anglers depend upon.

Picking: A worker inspects the contents of a dip net, picking out nontarget minnow species as the crew works a cut off Lake Huron in Michigan’s thumb area.

Picking: A worker inspects the contents of a dip net, picking out nontarget minnow species as the crew works a cut off Lake Huron in Michigan’s thumb area.

Minnow harvesters are licensed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Tom Goniea, the DNR fisheries biologist who oversees the program from Lansing, said there are about 80 licensed minnow catchers in Michigan, but only a handful of large operators like Slancik.

“Most of the catchers’ licenses belong to guys who own retail shops and may catch minnows every now and then to sell to their customers,” Goniea said. “Ninety percent of the state’s bait harvest is coming out of Saginaw Bay, the St. Clair River, the Detroit River and Lake Erie. It’s mostly emerald and spottail shiners. Your fatheads, golden shiners and suckers are largely imported.”

Minnows: A perch is removed from a dip net full of minnows taken from a cut off Saginaw Bay.

Minnows: A perch is removed from a dip net full of minnows taken from a cut off Saginaw Bay.

Minnow harvesters are restricted to the types and size of gear they can use.

“On the Great Lakes, they can use a 125-foot seine,” Goniea said. “Inland waters have different regulations that vary by water type. In Michigan, most waters are open to minnow harvest unless they are specifically closed.”

For Slancik, a recent day began on a cut (a nonflowing man-made channel connected to a larger body of water which aids in getting boats access to open water) along Saginaw Bay not far from home.

Two of Slancik’s employees manned the ends of a seine stretched across the cut, one on the bank, the other in a float tube along the edge of the deeper side of the cut.

Slowly, they pulled the seine toward the inside end of the cut, where Slancik directed them.

When they reached a point a couple yards off the back end of the cut, Slancik sprang into action, bringing dip nets and a larger floating pen net with him.

The trio began scooping up minnows, weeding through them to toss out the non-minnow captives, mostly perch, and transferring the minnows into the net pen.

The fish were then filtered through a grader— a floating device with a slotted bottom that allowed the smaller fish to slip through to the pen, but contained the larger fish.

From there, they again dipped the minnows up with hand nets and sorted, tossing out perch or other non-target species, transferring the minnows into 5-gallon buckets.

Slancik took a bucket to his truck, which is equipped with numerous, oxygenated tanks. There, he sorted one more time, removing any non-minnow fish before he transferred the minnows to the truck tank.

Slancik said sorting takes a lot of time. Had they found many more perch or other unwanted specimens in the seine, he said he would have dumped the whole load back into the cut and gone elsewhere.

Slancik has been catching minnows his whole life. He started working for his great-uncle Frank, of Frank’s Great Outdoors in Linwood fame, who Slancik called “the Fred Bear of minnow-catching.”

Slancik works a territory from Pinconning north and east along the thumb of the state to Port Austin in Huron County. More than half the minnows he takes are used in the local Saginaw Bay area. In a cold winter, with good ice, 75 percent of his minnows are sold locally.

“From November first to December, it’s go, go, go, sometimes 24 hours a day for five days straight,” Slancik said. “On a good day, we’ll get 300 gallons of minnows, about 700 per gallon.” Minnows are sold by the gallon commercially in Michigan. In some others states, they’re sold by the pound.

Like most fishing pursuits, Slancik’s minnow catching luck runs hot and cold.

“I’ve had catches of 1,000 gallons, no problem. One time we caught 10,000 gallons and I only needed 1,000 gallons. I let the other 9,000 gallons go,” Slancik said. “But I’ve had times when I’ve worked all day and only caught 20 gallons.”

Slancik said he puts between 7 million and 10 million minnows in ponds, which he keeps aerated, for the winter season.

“I can keep up to 2,000 gallons in a pond, but I want to back off a little this year because we might have a warmer winter,” he said. “Bigger minnows survive better in the ponds. The smaller minnows don’t have the strength to be caught in warmer temperatures and held until spring.”

State law prohibits minnows caught in Michigan to be exported out of state.

“Any minnow that is harvested in Michigan is meant to meet the local demand of Michigan anglers, without disturbing the food chain for our predator fishes such as trout, walleye and smallmouth bass,” Goniea said.

Goniea said minnow harvesters are not doing any damage to the fisheries resource.

“In almost all cases, human harvest has little to no effect on available resources,” he said. “On a place like Saginaw Bay, a million emerald shiners is a minute part of the population. Walleyes, bass and the other predator fish control the bait population. Human harvest is a drop in the bucket, and minnows are capable of explosive growth and reproduction.”

This fall, Slancik has mostly caught emerald shiners, the minnows anglers call “blues.” Spottail shiners, known as “grays,” were down a little.

“Spottails tend to run larger than emeralds. Lake trout fishermen like spottails, just because of their size. But big emeralds will work just as well,” Slancik said. “We noticed that last year because nobody caught spottails. But people get it stuck in their heads that they want spottails. These days, there are more emeralds than spottails. It used to be the other way around.”

Slancik said there are more baitfish in Lake Huron now than ever.

“Lake Huron is like a big fish tank — you can only put so many fish in an aquarium,” Slancik said. “When one is up, the other is down, but spottails are slowly coming back.”

Slancik said he’s seeing more gizzard shad and alewives lately, too.

The DNR monitors the minnow harvest to make sure invasive species and those that can carry diseases — such as viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) — aren’t spread.

In the summer months, when minnows can’t be kept in ponds, a lot of minnows are imported.

But in winter, if you’re seeking a Pure Michigan experience—say walleye fishing through the ice–you’re likely using minnows caught right here in Michigan, by commercial bait harvesters like Slancik.

For more information on Michigan minnows, visit the DNR’s webpage at www.michigan.gov/fishing.

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Cloud formations are pure Michigan


N-Cloud-Michigan-MittenReader Andrea Martin took this photo last Saturday evening, July 25, at the West Michigan Hawks football game at Skinner Field. It’s a great shot of what looks like the Michigan mitten! Thanks, Andrea, for sending it our way!

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Fall colors nearing prime


By Judy Reed

 

Now is the time to take a drive and take in all the beautiful fall colors Michigan has to offer in our area.

Color is filling in fast in our area, and some leaves have already dropped. Trees are expected to peak in the next couple of weeks.

Most of the Upper Peninsula is nearing peak. According to Pure Michigan’s fall color update, this week, traveling I-75 north of St. Ignace, you’ll find brilliant reds, greens and yellows covering a variety of trees. In the northern lower peninsula, The Grand Traverse Bay region is showing brilliant crimson color, especially at the edge of the forests, while sugar maples are starting to glow with reds, oranges and gold. There’s dusky purple in the ash trees and warm gold in the walnuts, while the cottonwood trees near the Sleeping Bear Dunes on the Leelanau Peninsula are turning a bright buttery yellow now, and the honey locusts are a warm gold. Full peak color is still at least a week away in most parts of the Grand Traverse Bay region.

A drive around our community shows an array of bright, beautiful leaves, as shown in the photos on this page. These photos were taken in areas just in townships surrounding Cedar Springs. Take a walk along the White Pine Trail, or a drive through our surrounding townships—Solon, Nelson, Courtland, Oakfield, Spencer, and Algoma—and you are sure to be delighted with the colors in this fall’s fashion show!

 

 

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Pure Michigan Hunt winner relishes waterfowl outing


Michigan DNR

Standing in chest waders, hiding in standing corn at Shiawassee River State Game Area, Randy Willis said he found waterfowl hunting to be an eye-opening experience.
“I’ve never imagined I’d be able to do this,” said Willis, a 56-year-old registered nurse from Augusta and one of three winners of the Pure Michigan Hunt drawing for 2011. “This is very cool.”
Having never waterfowl hunted before, he didn’t have the experience or the buddies with the equipment to show him the ropes, he said. Willis acknowledged that he didn’t have any idea what he was in for. “This is a blast,” he said. “I can’t say enough about it.”
Like many of the folks who apply for the Pure Michigan Hunt, which allows winners to participate in every limited-license hunting opportunity in the state, Willis said the chance to be chosen first in a drawing at a managed waterfowl area was well down his list of motivations for applying.
“Elk was the big draw,” said Willis. “I’ve been applying for elk since 1984. I’ve hunted bear before and spring turkey for years, but by purchasing the Pure Michigan Hunt application, and I purchased five, that was five extra chances to hunt elk in your home state. That’s special.”
Turned out it was very special. Willis hunted elk the first four days of the season in August and saw one small bull, but decided to pass on it. “One of the advantages of the Pure Michigan Hunt is you get a chance to come back later,” he said.
When the early season resumed in September, he came back. The elk were bugling and responding to the call and on the second evening, he had a 5-by-7 bull come within 45 yards of him. “He was bugling, just screaming at us,” Willis said. “It was storybook.”
Willis said he wanted to try to take it with his bow, but the elk was outside of his comfortable shooting range.
Later that evening, he saw a nice 6-by-6 moving through an opening at 250 yards. Willis put down his bow, picked up his .300 Mag., and when the elk stopped, he shot him.
And that was after he’d taken a bear, his first success in the Pure Michigan Hunt adventure. Willis hunted for 12 days over bait in the western Upper Peninsula. He said he saw a lot of bears, but was holding out for a record-book quality animal. But on the last day of his hunt, he took what he called “an average bear,” and was happy with that.
Then came the waterfowl hunt.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do about it,” he was. “Then Barb Avers (the Department of Natural Resources’ waterfowl specialist) called and asked me if I had plans. When I told her I didn’t, she said, ‘Let me see what I can do.’”
Avers put Willis in touch with Brian Siess, the president of the Shiawassee Flats Citizens and Hunters Association. Siess offered to guide Willis and his partners. So at 5 a.m. on opening morning of waterfowl season, at the drawing for hunting areas, Willis had the first choice.
And when Barry Pratt, who works at Shiawassee, announced to the waiting hunters that a Pure Michigan Hunt winner had the first choice that morning, Willis was greeted with a round of applause. Two hours later, with decoys in front of him and a couple of experienced waterfowl hunters calling for him, Willis was into it.
Willis invited his 80 year-old father, Gordon, with whom he’s been hunting since he was a lad, and his buddy Chris Ostrander to accompany him. Siess enlisted fellow Shiawassee veteran Butch Boivin to assist.
It started quickly with geese pouring into the flooded corn and buckwheat field Siess had chosen. In no time, the guys were banging away at Canada geese as Siess coached them on how and when to shoot. Two hours into the hunt, the party had a limit of geese in the bag.
The rest of the morning was dedicated to ducks. There were fewer ducks than geese flying and they were less impressed with the decoys and calling than the geese had been. By 10 a.m. the three of them had managed three mallards and a wood duck.
“I have to give a special thanks to Butch and Brian,” Willis said. “We’re feeling pretty special. To be able to come out here and hunt with experienced guys who are involved in the management here is special. The whole experience has been extraordinary, Willis said.
Willis said he primarily bought his Pure Michigan Hunt applications to give something to the DNR for wildlife management.
“The money goes to the Game and Fish Fund, so I figured I was making my donation,” he said. “You’re not only supporting the game and fish management, but you’re putting your name in the hat for something special. When (DNR Wildlife Division Chief) Russ Mason called and told me I’d won the Pure Michigan Hunt drawing, I said ‘Who’s pranking me?’”
Willis’ father, who is a lifelong hunter, but had never been waterfowling before, said he had an outstanding time, too. “It’s a blast,” he said. “It was so neat that those guys at the DNR were willing to step up and help us out. We didn’t have the equipment or the knowledge. Otherwise, we might have had to let this opportunity go by.”
Willis was most effusive in his praise for numerous DNR staffers, who put him in contact with guides and helped him understand all the rules, as well the sponsors who donated prizes (such as rifles and crossbows) to the Pure Michigan Hunt winners.
Willis admits he hasn’t bought any Pure Michigan Hunt applications for 2012 – yet. “I’ve been spending all of my money hunting,” he said. “But before the end of the year, I promise I will. There are folks that buy a Lotto ticket every week. I think it’s a better investment to buy Pure Michigan Hunt applications.”
To learn more about the Pure Michigan Hunt, visit www.michigan.gov/puremichiganhunt.

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