Weekender Tips for Ice Fishing in Northern Michigan

Ice Fishing Michigan

A holiday weekend is the perfect time to enjoy one of northern Michigan’s favorite outdoor activities: ice fishing. And it’s not just locals who are itchin’ to go fishin’. Visitors come from miles around to catch their limit on our frozen lakes.

Here are a few tips from a local for the casual weekender who wants to give ice fishing a try —from advice on equipment, to safety and a fish finder for area lakes. These tips won’t guarantee a prosperous catch, but they’ll set you up for a fun, safe angling adventure on Michigan’s frozen playgrounds.

Walleye fishing Michigan

Licensed to Catch

The first thing every angler needs is a license. And the MDNR offers several options.

  • You can now buy an e-license online anytime at mdnr-elicense.com.
  • There are three licensing options: one-day license, season license and a new 72-hour all species license. The last option is great for the weekender as it’s available to residents and non-residents for $30.
  • Fish for free on one of Michigan’s free fishing weekends. Mark you calendars for February 14-15, 2015 for this winter’s free weekend.

Equipment

Here’s a list of the basic equipment and supplies you’d need for an afternoon out on the ice. And like most sports and hobbies, there are the necessities, and then there are thousands of variations, and upgrades that can expand the options, and empty your wallet. These are the nuts and bolts. You take it where you want to from here.

  • Valid Michigan fishing license, see above. Children under 17 can fish for free;
  • Ice Auger or spud, depending on the depth of the ice. More than four inches of ice and you’ll probably want an auger;
  • Sled to pull your gear, depending on how much you have;
  • Portable shanty, foldable chair or bucket to sit on;
  • Tip-ups or ice fishing rods;
  • Bait: for tip-ups use minnows like golden shiners or blues. For rods use wax worms or artificial bait like jigs and spoons.

Tip: Don’t forget to keep the receipt from the bait shop if you buy live bait, like minnows. Live bait must be certified to prevent the spread of disease. DNRE officers may ask for proof of purchase.

Safety Tips

  • Safe ice is thick ice. Four inches is recommended for safely fishing on Michigan’s inland lakes. If you’re heading out with a snowmobile or ATV, err on the side of caution and wait for 5″-6″ of ice.
  • Watch for holes, cracks and open ice. Freshly abandoned ice fishing holes are a quick way to twist an ankle or worse. Anglers often leave branches or markers in their abandoned ice holes as a warning, so keep your eyes open.
  • Bring emergency gear. Safety spikes are a great solution, and can be worn around the neck. They look like a short jump-rope with handles on the end, each equipped with a spike. If you fell in the ice you could use the picks to pull you out. A lifejacket and some rope are a good back-up plan.
  • Don’t fish alone. It’s not as much fun anyway, so bring a buddy.

Tip: If you’re unsure about the safety of lake ice, get some advice from the bait shop or a local. Many small inland lakes are not ideal for ice fishing because they’re spring fed. The way the ice forms can also determine whether it’s strong enough to support additional weight. So if you don’t see any tracks, or evidence of activity on the surface, don’t venture out, especially alone.

ice fishing for pikeFish Finder

There are dozen of lakes in northwestern Michigan that could be great for fishing. And certain species thrive in specific lakes. Here’s a short guide to some of the most popular species, and where you can find them.

  • If your fishing for pike check out Portage Lake in Onekema and Green Lake in Interlochen;
  • For smelt try Crystal Lake in Benzie county, and Green Lake;
  • For perch Crystal Lake and Glen Lake near Glen Arbor;
  • For walleye visit Long Lake in Traverse City, and Lake Leelanau on the Leelanau Peninsula.

Tip: Know your limit, and stay within it. The DNRE limits the catch on each species, and limits vary. Check out the MDNR website for all the details.

 

 

By |2018-12-12T09:21:39+00:00January 19th, 2015|Adventure, Family Fun, Travel Tips|0 Comments

Tips for Exploring the Ice Caves on Lake Michigan

We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend to enjoy Winter in northern Michigan. There seemed to be a festival in every town. But event planners around the region were trumped by mother nature as thousands made the trek to see the ice caves on Lake Michigan.

My social media circles have been buzzing for days with stories and some spectacular photos showing 20′ and 30′ ice cliffs just offshore near Leland, the pinky finger of our mitten state. After reading the story on MLive.com I just couldn’t pass up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these formations.

This winter has been uncharacteristically cold, snowy, and now ice-filled. In fact, Lake Michigan is likely to break the all-time ice coverage record of 95 percent. Our frigid temps and windy weather are the perfect storm for creating these ‘ice castles’ just 500 yards off shore. They’re far from common, so it became my mission this weekend to make the migration.

Mission completed. Although at times it felt more like Mission Impossible. So I wanted to share a few tips in case you’re planning to make the trip to see the ice caves.

Tips to know before you go

  • Park close to the lake. The top viewing area is off of Onomonee Rd and N. Gills Pier Rd. Do not make the same mistake we did and park the moment you find a space. We parked on N. Gills Pier Rd near M-22 since there were so many cars. It is an HOUR walk from there! Keep driving, even if the going is slow. You’ll find a space.
  • Don’t forget to bring water. I know, obvious right? If it were summer and I were headed out on a big hike I’d have packed smarter. But I had no idea we’d be out there so long, or have to walk so far. I was ready to eat snow.
  • Bring your camera, not just your iPhone. Guess what? iPhones don’t love the cold and snow. If you want to capture the beauty of this trip to share with those who didn’t join you, bring a point-and-shoot camera along with your phone.
  • Wear good boots with traction. The terrain is a mixture of hard pack slick snow, smooth ice and sloping, unpredictable grade. It’s incredibly easy to lose your footing. Consider wearing crampons, or yaktrax if you have them. And just be slow and careful on the ice.

Was it amazing? Absolutely! But after traveling with my two kids, and my two parents we all agreed these tips would have been nice to know beforehand. I’m not sure how long the weather will permit visitations to this spectacular show of mother nature’s beauty and power. So get out there if you can, but be safe!

By |2018-09-12T13:20:14+00:00February 17th, 2014|Adventure, Scenic, Travel Tips|12 Comments