The fall hunting season is fading away. Muzzleloader season in Michigan ended on December 18th and the window for those in areas for doe permits wraps up on January 1st. As the weather gets even colder, the Michigan outdoor sports enthusiast turns their attention to the “hard water” for fishing.
As Mother Nature allows, the lakes of the State of Michigan generally start their hard freeze around the end of December into early January. Naturally, the inland of Upper and Northern Lower Michigan freeze first and depending on the conditions lakes in Southern Michigan follow.
Species that anglers target through the ice include tasty panfish such as bluegill, perch and walleye—please note that bass season is closed in the winter. Additionally, many anglers target pike with tip-ups or through spearing. There’s a widely held belief that fish taste better as they are more firm in the colder, cleaner water. Before you hit the ice, there are a few things to remember first.
First, safety is paramount. Do not venture on ice in areas where you don’t know the currents or underneath.
Second, never assume or trust ice. Always check as you go. A spud is a handy tool to quickly check ice depth. Remember that on a lake, ice thickness is never uniform. Some areas could have 4″, while others have open water. Always avoid open water areas. Wearing ice picks or even a life jacket is never a bad idea to help pull yourself out of an emergency situation. If there is a local bait shop, consult them on ice thickness. Additionally, the DNR always releases a weekly report that covers ice conditions across many inland lakes.
Third, invest in good gear. Like any outdoor past time, while the gear seems simple, you can spend $40 or you can spend $800. There are few must-haves. You must have a good, sharp auger. It can make or break a trip. Simple hand augers work, or you can get a motorized gas auger. There are even augers now that are powered by propane. The hole widths the auger can drill can be 4″ to 8″.
Lastly, consider shelter. Shanties are always a great way to make ice fishing more enjoyable, especially on windy days. Portable heaters allow fishing with heat. If ice fishing with kids, it is highly recommended that you get a shanty with a floor. This allows little boots to stay off the slush and ice inside the shanty. Remember, have caution with your heater and keep objects away for safety reasons.
Lakes that are popular across in Northern Michigan include Higgins, St. Helen, Houghton Grand, and Cadillac. Downstate, good producing lakes include Morrison, Duck, and Pentwater. Townline Lake near Alma is a fun lake for pike spearing too.
Winter can be long for many in Michigan. Don’t let it drag you down, get outside and enjoy it! You may just end up with some tasty fish for the dinner table.