A slow season for ice fishing

ESCANABA – The long, harsh winter experienced in the Upper Peninsula this year has prevented the success of area anglers out on the ice.

“It’s been a long winter and a crazy year for sure,” said Greg Sanville, fisheries assistant for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Sanville administers the state’s angler survey on both Little and Big Bays de Noc during the year, but focuses solely on Little Bay de Noc in the winter.

“It’s probably the slowest winter I’ve ever worked here as far as angler participation,” he said, noting the conditions this winter have prevented fishermen from taking to the ice. “I would say it’s at least cut it in half from last year.”

Sanville also noted each year there seems to be a declining population of anglers statewide.

Despite the lack of anglers, some fishermen he has spoken to have indicated they are experiencing a pretty good season. But these anglers are the ones who tend to spend more time out on the ice, and therefore, are likely to catch more fish, said Sanville.

Naomi Johnson, owner of Bay Shore Resort Bait & Tackle in Gladstone, agrees with Sanville that this year has been a hard one on anglers.

“They’re complaining about the weather, the lack of fish, the conditions out there. It’s been so darn cold,” she said, adding she is hopeful for an early thaw.

“Back in ’96 I can remember having these types of conditions and the ice didn’t leave the bay until May 13,” she said, just two days before May 15 – opening day for walleye season.

And though this winter has not been typical of the past few winters, it is hard for anglers to get around on the thick ice and the snow that covers it, said Johnson.

Sanville estimates ice thickness out on the bay to be around 30 inches on average, though some areas are probably at around three feet of ice.

The fish have also been affected by the weather, he said. Though there usually comes a period in February where fish are dormant due to the cold, their dormancy period this year has been prolonged.

The fish population has also been impacted by oxygen deprivation. Because of no wave action in the water, they are forced to live off the oxygen below.

Sanville reminds anglers to be safe out on the ice.

“Right now one of the biggest issues is people getting stuck out on the lake,” he said, reminding anglers to stay away from moving water and mouths of water.

“As far as ice, the ice is really thick this year, so as far as safety and travel on the ice, that hasn’t been a problem,” said Sanville, who added he has not heard of any anglers falling through the ice this year, which is unusual.

One of the major concerns now is anglers getting stuck in pressure cracks.

“As the ice starts to recede, those cracks will open up,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a problem right at this moment, but it will be in the future.”

Despite a rough year for ice fishing, Johnson said there may be a silver lining in store.

“We’re hoping for higher water levels because the ice came so early…so it should bring the water levels up some, which is good for trout fishermen and makes it easier to get around the bay,” she said.

The DNR reminds those with shanties on Upper Peninsula waters that they have until midnight of March 31 to remove them from the ice. For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr.