With the arrival of decent ice through most of the Copper Country and western Upper Peninsula, ice shanties are now popping up on lakes around the region as anglers chase the great diversity of fish available to us through the ice. From splake, pike and walleye to perch, bluegills and crappies, there's something for all anglers, whether you favor hook-and-bobber or tip-up fishing.
February is not only a good time for the die-hard, life-long anglers, but is also the perfect month to introduce someone new, whether young or old, local resident or out-of-state visitor, to the sport of fishing. Why? Three words: Free Fishing Weekend.
On Feb. 16-17, anglers across the state will have the opportunity to fish without first purchasing a license. The exemption applies evenly to state residents and non-residents alike, with the only requirement being they follow all current fishing regulations.
The DNR coordinates two Free Fishing Weekends each year in February and June as an opportunity to showcase the great angling opportunities available in Michigan while alleviating some of the financial investment needed to get involved. And in many cases, it's not just the license that is free.
On Free Fishing Weekend, many communities, sport fishing clubs and state parks put on fishing derbies and other events where participants receive free instruction and live bait along with the use of loaner fishing rods and other ice fishing equipment.
In the western Upper Peninsula, at least three fishing events will be held on Free Fishing Weekend. (There are undoubtedly more planned, and we encourage the organizers to register their events on the DNR's Free Fishing Weekend website: michigan.gov/freefishing.)
On Saturday, Feb. 16, the Wakefield Volunteer Fire Department will host its fourth annual ice fishing contest fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Central Time on Sunday Lake. The event is geared toward children, but prizes are available for anglers of all ages. For more information, email email@example.com or call 906-229-5131.
On Saturday, Feb. 16 and Sunday, Feb. 17, DNR Fisheries Division and Parks and Recreation staff will host two free fishing classes, on Bass Lake in Gogebic County (Saturday) and on Runkle Lake in Iron County (Sunday). The classes are designed for anglers of all ages (youth participants must be accompanied by an adult). Instructors will be on hand from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Central Time to teach techniques and methods used when fishing for a variety of locally-available species. Live bait will be provided, along with a limited amount of loaner equipment. For more information, contact DNR fisheries biologist Mark Mylchreest at 906-875-6622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For anglers who want to head further north, Fort Wilkins Historic State Park in Copper Harbor will host the second annual Lake Fanny Hooe Ice Fishing Tournament from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9,
The tournament, sponsored by the Pines Resort, McCabe Distributing Company and Seventh Street Station, is designed to both highlight the Keweenaw's fantastic splake fishery and encourage youth to try ice fishing. There is no registration fee for youth anglers to participate in the kids fishing contest, while adults will pay $10 to enter. All proceeds from the tourney will be donated to the DNR's Fisheries Division for future management of the region's splake population. For more information, contact Fort Wilkins supervisor Rob Strittmatter at 906-289-4215 or strittmatterr@ michigan.gov.
Outside of these organized events, there are a few specific waterbodies in the Copper Country that would make ideal locations for introducing newbies to ice fishing.
According to DNR fisheries biologists and creel clerks, Portage Lake in the Village of Chassell has recently experienced a resurgence in the crappie, perch and bluegill populations, creating a productive hook-and-bobber panfish opportunity for kids, all within easy walking distance from the public boat launch.
Otter Lake in Baraga County has experienced a similar uptick in panfish numbers, most notably crappies, one of the most popular and tasty species caught through the ice. Anglers on Otter Lake have also been reporting good pike fishing, creating an opportunity for kids to enjoy targeting the more active panfish bite while the adults set out a few tip-ups of their own.
Interested in learning more about getting hooked on ice fishing this winter? Be sure to check out the DNR's Weekly Fishing Report, posted each Thursday at michigan.gov/fishingreport; read about Michigan fish species and the best ways to catch them at michigan.gov/fishing; and find full details about Free Fishing Weekend events at michigan.gov/freefishing.
Debbie Munson Badini is the DNR's Deputy Public Information Officer. Have suggestions for future column topics or questions about natural resource management in the UP? Contact her by phone at 906-226-1352, via email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @MichiganDNR_UP.