Ice Fishing 101: Six Simple Rules for Ice Fishing in Michigan

Michigan is a winter wonderland – especially for ice fishing! Today, guest bloggers Elyse Walter and Christian LeSage from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources give us six simple rules for a fun and safe ice fishing experience in Pure Michigan. 

Ice-fishing-in-MichiganMichigan offers some wonderful outdoor opportunities throughout the year, including world-class fishing. While some anglers head for the indoors when the temperatures dip, others look forward to winter’s most popular angling activity – ice fishing.

Many anglers and families look forward to the opportunities ice fishing provides them during these colder months, with some proclaiming this the best time to go fishing! Ice fishing is generally a more social event and many anglers welcome sharing a conversation about how they’re doing and what has worked for them. Others prefer the solitude that this wintery sport offers as they battle the elements in their quest to catch fish. Some of the benefits of ice fishing include the fact you can get to just about anywhere on a lake during the season and there are a multitude of species available to target.

If you’ve never been ice fishing there are a few things to think about so you’re prepared to have a fun and safe experience. We often recommend following these six simple rules:

1. Never fish alone.

2. Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return.

3. Always test the ice with a spud (a long shank with a chisel-like end).

4. Take the appropriate emergency items, such as ice picks and a life jacket.

5. Take a cell phone (enclosed in a plastic bag) with you in case you need to call for help.

6. Lakes tend to be a safer choice during the early winter as streams or rivers have flow which makes them less safe at times.

After you round up your gear (check out this list in our “Ice Fishing, the Coolest Sport Around” article) you’ll want to think about which species to fish for. Maybe you’d like to look for panfish while hook-and-line fishing, such as bluegill, yellow perch or crappie. Use a tip-up to target larger game fish, like northern pike, walleye and numerous trout species. Or – an opportunity unique to Michigan – consider going spearing for some monster fish like northern pike or muskellunge. Please note there are many restrictions associated with spear fishing (for instance, muskellunge harvest is limited to one per angler per season and a harvest tag is required), anglers should read the 2014 Michigan Fishing Guide for more information.

No matter what type of ice fishing method you choose remember this simple tip: success is most often seen around dawn until mid-morning or from late afternoon until sundown.

Need additional incentive to drop a line this winter? Try it for free as part of the 2015 Winter Free Fishing Weekend, coming Saturday, February 14 and Sunday, February 15. This annual weekend provides two days where no fishing license is required for residents or non-residents – although all fishing regulations still apply.

The Department of Natural Resources has coordinated the Winter Free Fishing Weekend every year since 1994 in an effort to showcase the great angling opportunities available in Michigan and to allow residents and visitors alike to try the experience for free.

While many individuals and families will flock to their favorite fishing hole as part of this weekend, others will join official events coordinated throughout the state that will provide hands-on ice fishing experience. An official 2015 Winter Free Fishing Weekend event list will be available at www.michigan.gov/freefishing later this winter.

Don’t miss your chance to experience Michigan’s outstanding winter fishing opportunities and to get your family outdoors. Start planning your next fishing trip at www.michigan.gov/fishing

ElyseWalter-ChristianLeSageElyse Walter is a communication specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Christian LeSage is a Senior Fisheries Biologist for the Department. Elyse works specifically with the DNR’s Fisheries Division to help educate and promote the state’s fishing opportunities and aquatic resources. Christian LeSage’s responsibilities include improving angling opportunities for anglers through fish stocking activities as well as development of the annual Michigan Fishing Guide. Elyse and Christian work together to promote Michigan’s awesome angling opportunities which are second to none.

Deer Hunting Traditions Run Deep in Pure Michigan

Are you ready for opening day? Today, guest blogger Katie Keen from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources shares her family’s yearly hunting season preparations and traditions. 

Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Deer season means something a little different to each hunter, but for many Michiganders November is a very special time of the year!

For me, deer season will always catch me off guard!  How does fall arrive so soon?  I always have a goal of where I need to be in my deer season preparations, which I seem to fail at miserably.  It really should be easy, when the antlerless deer application period is open July 15 – August 15, the same time every year. I should be thinking deer and thinking deer should tell me to get shooting!  Usually my goal is to get my bow out sometime in the month of August and start practicing, I’ve accomplished this task about 50% of the time, because you know you have those little voices in your head saying “oh you overachiever, you’ll be fine if you don’t start until September.”

My family and I go out on our property stomping around on about a daily basis, we could be picking berries, mountain biking or taking a hike but I’m always multi-tasking.  Finding deer trails is our past-time, and we love looking for any animal sign, but tracks, scrapes, scat, and rubs are our favorite!  So really, that’s my scouting, which I generally feel good about.

For me, fall is the best time of the year to be outside, the absolute best months of the year hands down!  Many others must agree, because annually over 660,000 hunters take to Michigan’s fields and forest for deer season.  That is a lot of families, friends, and neighbors that are all sharing a common interest in getting some fresh local and organic deer meat, not to mention having a little fun while we are at it!

DSC01912This year the deer licenses are even more flexible than ever before!  You can buy a deer license (limit one so if you’re going to want to harvest two bucks go for the combo deer license) and hunt in any season!  With the deer license you can hunt archery season and harvest an antlerless or an antlered, or you can use the same license and hunt firearm season for antlered deer.  This is by far the best change of 2014 – so flexible and no application required (so it’s okay if you’re a person who can’t remember what you are did yesterday).  Visit www.michigan.gov/hunting  to read about your specific areas hunting seasons, antler point restrictions, baiting regulations, and more.

The Hunting and Trapping Digest is a must have! It’s in my purse, goes with me to the blind, and is stashed in my vehicle.

SX-Michigan-DNRSo with over 660,000 deer hunters taking to the woods, rituals or traditions are happening year after year and although the traditions may vary, they are at every deer camp and literally with every hunter.  It could be the same giant wool socks you’ve had for a decade, the big feast the night before or the “eve” of the deer season, maybe cleaning out the party the mice had in your deer blind the past winter, or walking that same trail out to your favorite spot in the crisp dark early morning of the opener.

It’s different for everyone one, but yet it’s the same.  It’s kind of nice to think about.  It’s neat to think on November 15 as I’m walking out in the darkness, questioning whether that tree was there before or if I got turned around or not, thousands of other people are doing the same exact thing.  THOUSANDS! We all might not think the same on so many other issues, we might come from so many different backgrounds, and we might say go STATE rather than go BLUE, but we are still sharing one of our most favorite times of the year – together.

Do you or a Michigan hunter you know follow any special deer camp traditions? Tell us!

DSC01915Katie Keen is a Wildlife Outreach Technician for the DNR in Cadillac who spends her working hours with hunters, landowners, educators, and media outlets for their DNR related needs! In her off-time, she is a hunting-landowner who loves to educate folks about the DNR!

A Grouse Hunter’s Guide To Navigating Michigan’s Seven New GEMS

GEMS logo

Grouse hunting season in Michigan is open now through November 14th. Today, guest blogger Katie Keen from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources tells us about a new program that’s giving Michigan hunters access to some of the top grouse hunting areas in the country.

Daylight is starting to give us the squeeze, and if you’re like me, you’re starting to smell fall in the air.

Fall brings prime hunting season in Michigan, and with it a new program that the DNR and many other groups – like the Ruffed Grouse Society, U.S. Forest Service, National Wild Turkey Federation and Ducks Unlimited – are really excited about.

It’s called GEMS, or Grouse Enhanced Management Systems.

Michigan is among the leading states in the nation for grouse hunting, and the GEMS showcase seven great areas for those who want to give the sport a try or maybe existing hunters looking for new locations. The great thing about grouse hunting is, if you’re already a hunter you have – or will soon have, with deer season right around the corner – the hunting license you need.  The base license serves as a small game license, which is all you need for grouse hunting. The base license provides critical funding for wildlife and habitat management and conservation officers, and also to educate the public on the benefits of hunting, fishing and trapping.

Info kioskSeven GEMS are ready for this year’s grouse season, which starts Sept. 15.  Go online and pick out the first GEMS site you want to visit, whether it’s just below the bridge in Indian River, just north of the tri-cities near Standish, or north of the bridge where you could go from Drummond Island in the eastern U.P. to the Ottawa National Forest in the far western U.P.  The adventure is there and waiting!  You’ll also notice, when you’re on the GEMS website, the local support area businesses are giving GEMS. GEMS hunters will receive some great discounts by taking a selfie at a GEMS site and showing the picture to the participating business.

Once you’ve picked out your first GEMS location, and arrived there with your fashionable hunter orange vest, you’ll find some very useful information. Learn about ruffed grouse biology and how forests are managed for wildlife through cutting, hear examples of a ruffed grouse drumming on a log, and – most importantly – check out the map that will show you the miles and miles of hunter walking trails waiting for you.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 5.10.49 PMGEMS areas feature non-motorized trails planted with clover weaving through pockets of grouse’s favorite habitat – stands of young aspen trees. You can choose to stay on the trail looking for grouse, or step off a bit and venture through the stands of young timber.  And don’t forget the other great upland game bird that can be found and hunted in these GEMS – the American woodcock.  Woodcock season starts on Sept. 20, and since it is a migratory bird, an additional free “woodcock stamp” is needed for hunting.  You can grab a woodcock stamp anywhere DNR licenses are sold or online.

Once you’ve completed your first GEMS hunt, make sure to take that selfie in front of a GEMS sign and visit one of the area businesses to get a great discount.  Hunters in Michigan bring millions of dollars into our economy … and have a whole lot of fun doing it!

Katie KeenKatie Keen is a wildlife outreach technician for the DNR in Cadillac, who spends her working hours with hunters, landowners, educators and media representatives to help with their DNR-related needs. In her off-time, she is a hunting-landowner who loves to educate folks about the DNR.