By Jim Hamrick
We are having a Michigan old fashioned winter. The two previous winters were unseasonably warm. Snow fall was a pitiful sixteen inches, when we normally average sixty. This year Mother Nature has provided us a winter that is probably more than we really want to deal with. Forty-six inches of snow and the season is only half over. Bitter cold is playing havoc with utility bill budgets. Cheer up the fish are biting!
Local lakes are covered with safe ice, and fish are jumping out of the holes. Ice fishing is a simple form of angling that can provide hours of fun, a tasty meal and a life time of memories. Ice fishing can be a very economical pastime. Twenty dollars or less for a rod, some line and jigs will get your started. Most bait is less than two dollars. The most expensive item will be the ice drill called an auger. Sixty to seventy five dollars for a new one is tops. These can be great finds at garage sales. Many times they go for less than twenty dollars. A hooded coat with warm boots and you are in business.
A wind free day with moderate temperatures, usually in the twenty-five degree range is best for beginners. Most local lakes support great numbers of pan fish, Bluegills, Crappies, and every one’s favorite Yellow Perch. Northern Pike are the winter trophies in our lakes, but they usually require special tackle.
The best way to locate fish is where the other fisherman are gathered. Popular local lakes like Sunset Lake in Vicksburg, Portage Lake between Vicksburg and Mendon, and Big Pleasant near Three Rivers host many experienced fishermen each day. Many of the daily regulars have electronic fish locators to help them find cooperative fish. Remember eighty per cent of the fish live in ten per cent of the lake. Groups of fishermen are a good sign there are fish in the area. Join them. Most ice fishermen are sociable and will share helpful information about what is working.
Once a spot is selected, a hole drilled and cleaned out, what do we use? The choices of presentations are limitless. If the water depth is twelve feet or less I like to use an ice fly. When the water is over twelve feet I prefer metal jigs. With all the snow we have this year something that glows in the dark has been the top performer.
Add your bait, a larvae called a spike is a favorite, but wax worms, or wigglers produce well for Bluegills and Perch. Small minnows, emerald shiners or fat heads will get you big Crappies or Perch. Find the bottom using a bottom finder, cost less than a dollar, set your depth six inches up from the bottom and let the catching begin.
If you are taking kids, make the trip all about them. Answer their questions the best you can. Let them help, cleaning out holes, have them hold the rod while you locate the bottom. Fish in the shallowest water you can with kids. Sunset Lake is a great starter location for kids. The water is not so deep and there is always some cooperative fish around. Size doesn’t matter when kids are along.
February fifteen and sixteen are free fishing days in Michigan no license is needed. This would be a great weekend to try something new during this old fashioned Michigan winter. Maybe just maybe, you will enjoy a self-caught fish dinner.