2013-02-14 / Outdoors

DNR: Winter fishing in state proves to be a ‘reel’ good time

LANSING – Michigan’s worldclass fisheries are known throughout the country, if not the world, with many anglers pursuing them at all times of the year. These fisheries are even on proud display during the state’s legendary winter months – a time of year many anglers proclaim as the best time to go fishing.

Despite that claim, there are many other anglers who will have no part in winter fishing opportunities – either on or off the ice. But those anglers who actually prefer fishing through the ice to open-water fishing have two arguments to back up their inclination: anglers can get just about anywhere on the lake during ice-fishing season, something they can’t do without a boat during the open-water season; and virtually every fish that’s available to anglers in the summer can be caught through the ice. In fact, some are even caught more frequently in the winter.

Venturing out this time of year can be rewarding to anglers willing to pursue it – especially for families. Ice fishing offers something for kids that open-water fishing doesn’t: space to run around while they wait for the fish to bite.

While children often find sitting in a boat during the summer months a squirm-worthy activity, heading out on the ice to fish lends itself to all kinds of kid-friendly activities, like skiing, skating and snowball fights. Creating a fun atmosphere and memorable experience just might spark a family icefishing tradition.

If you’re 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 to take. The DNR offers plenty of online information about the ins and outs of ice fishing.

If you already go ice fishing regularly, consider taking on a new challenge by targeting a different species. Popular winter species include bluegill, crappie, smelt, walleyes and yellow perch, among others.

It’s helpful to know some simple tips when targeting these species. For instance, did you know the best time to target crappie is during the first and last hours of the day? Or that Michigan has an unusual smelt fishery, and in the winter anglers often use a hook-and-line to catch them while during other times of the year they are typically netted?

Did you know that during colder months, bluegill – a popular species no matter the time of year – suspend in the water column? As a result, avid ice fishermen use depth finders to find out where the fish are swimming. Ice fisherman also love targeting walleyes, typically by jigging (which means moving the fishing rod tip up and down while the bait is in the water) or with tip-ups. And avid anglers know yellow perch – quite possibly the most popular fish to eat – can often be found in shallow water towards the end of the icefishing season but at a wide range of depths earlier on.

Learn about these fishes and even more tips on how to catch them in the winter by checking out the “Michigan Fishes and How to Catch Them” section of the DNR’s website.

Still not convinced this winter is a great time to head outdoors to go fishing? What if you didn’t have to purchase a Michigan fishing license to test the waters?

That’s the case this weekend as the 2013 Winter Free Fishing Weekend arrives Feb. 16 and 17. During those two days anyone – residents and non-residents alike – can fish all waters without purchasing a license, although all regulations still apply at that time.

The DNR coordinates the Winter Free Fishing Weekend each year as an opportunity to showcase the great angling opportunities available in Michigan, but alleviating some of the financial investment needed to get involved.

Anyone who ventures out onto the ice is advised to keep the following precautions in mind:

•Check with local sources of information such as the bait shop or corner store about ice conditions before venturing out.

•Travel in pairs whenever possible and make sure someone knows where you are going and when you plan to return.

•Carry a spud to test the quality of the ice as you move further onto the ice.

•Avoid inlets and outlets, areas with natural springs or currents, and places were structures like docks, pilings, dead trees or other vegetation extend through the surface of the ice.

•Pay attention to wind direction especially on large bodies of water.

•Wear a personal flotation device (PFD) and carry personal safety devices such as spikes and rope to help you get out of the water should the ice break.

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