By Sen. Wayne Schmidt, 37th Senate District
For many northern Michigan and Upper Peninsula residents, being outdoors is a way of life — something that is passed down through generations. Whether it is hunting, hiking or fishing, among other hobbies, the love for the outdoors is a common denominator throughout my entire district.
As the winter months have closed in and that first layer of ice has frozen over the lake, anglers all over the state are preparing for one of Michigan’s most treasured pastimes: ice fishing.
Dedicated ice fishermen are a special breed in that they believe there is no other way to fish than through a hole in the ice. Some prefer a heated ice fishing shanty with all the bells and whistles, while the minimalist ice fisherman prefers nothing more than a rod, a hole and some bait. Despite their varying philosophies, they all agree that there is nothing better than reeling in their catch through a hole in the ice.
Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula are home to some of the best ice fishing in the nation. There are countless lakes and ponds where fishermen can set up shop — and of course, there are the Great Lakes.
If you’re unsure whether ice fishing is for you, I encourage you to find out by giving it a try during the upcoming Winter Free Fishing Weekend. The state of Michigan hosts two annual Free Fishing Weekends: one during the summer and one during the winter. During the Free Fishing Weekends, all fishing license fees are waived, allowing residents and visitors a chance to fish on all rivers, ponds, inland lakes and the Great Lakes free of charge. Though licenses are not required, all fishing regulations will still apply during the Free Fishing Weekend.
For more information on Michigan’s Free Fishing Weekend, including a list of activities across the state, visit www.michigan.gov/freefishing. This winter’s free fishing event takes place on Saturday, Feb. 17 and Sunday, Feb. 18.
While ice fishing is a great way to enjoy Michigan’s beautiful outdoors, it is important to remember that safety is paramount while out on the ice. Not only should you dress in several layers of loose clothing and wear mittens or gloves, a warm hat, and socks that will keep your feet warm and dry, there are several additional safety measures that must be taken when crossing the ice.
Be sure to always have life jackets or a flotation device on hand and be wary of dark spots, as they are a sign of thinning ice. Winter anglers should also be sure to carry an ice spud to test the ice thickness as they make their way out to their favorite spot. For additional ice fishing and safety tips, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr and click the “Fishing” tab on the left.
I hope anglers across Michigan have a chance to get out with family and friends and hit the ice next weekend. If you’re joined by someone experiencing their first time on the ice, do your best to make it enjoyable and help pass on this Michigan tradition to the next generation.
Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, represents the 37th state Senate District, which includes Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Luce and Mackinac counties.