"I've never seen a Michigan winter like this in all my life" -Frederick T. Kanicki
As I woke on January 31st, 2012 and headed to work driving south along M-13 (River Road) parallel to the Saginaw River I notice the river was finally freezing over just in time for the walleye anglers who take to the ice each winter in the "Shiver on the River" fishing tournament. The channel was still open and low and behold there was an ice shanty parked 50 feet from the open water... I will admit I've did some pretty insane things to get to where I thought the fishing would be good, but that's just plane stupid. When I walked outside at 4:15pm it was 53 degrees! I can't say weather or not the guys got their shanty or if mother nature took it since I had taken an alternate route home since I had some running to do. I can however say when I crossed a bridge down stream the river was wide open and cranking! As most my friends know, I'm not an ice fisherman. I've been ice fishing a handful of times and caught walleye, northern pike, and perch but it's just not my thing. Prior to owning a drift boat I would tredge through 12-16 inches of snow in the woods of northern Michigan just to get down to the rivers to find open water to wet a line for trout or steelhead. I own a 12 foot V-boat, a 10 foot flat bottom, and a kayak but the stability of being able to stand and cast from a drift boat is so nice.
Another bonus is getting to sections of the river that are difficult for shore anglers to access. The easily accessible fishing spots are very noticeable during migratory fish runs and often referred to as "elbows and assholes." Simply because your standing close enough to rub elbows with anglers on both sides of you and the majority are, well you know. If you've never witnessed the insanity of anglers during a migratory run, take a drive to Tippy Dam or Foote Dam during the fall salmon run or the spring steelhead run. I've did both, one time each, and NEVER again. Busting out as many casts as you can hoping to hit the fish in the mouth with a treble hook is not fishing! Though I had no clue that's what the two separate trips I went on in the past intailed, it was something to see. Picture the people of Walmart with ocean rods lining the banks of the river line running fish and claiming them as a prize.
Back to the subject of the strangest Michigan winter most of us have ever seen. Alot of us have been on a roller coater with sinus related issues and anyone with arthritis or pain in their joints have been in an exacerbated state since fall. The ground hasn't reached a decent level regarding a frost line which satisfactory is 12-16 inches. This simply means we could be in for a terrible insect season this spring/summer. With the ground only freezing 3-4 inches down, alot of the insects that burrow into the soil in the fall have not died off.
This has been a typical sight as the weather fluctuates from warm to cold. Nearly frozen water opening back up making conditions poor for ice anglers.
Though some ice has been safe for limited periods and anglers that know where to find fish have had some success with the perch this winter.
Pictured below is my good friend Mike's son Corey with a couple of NICE perch!
Friend and meteorologist Janet Van De Winkle recently posted on Facebook according to the Climate Prediction Center the warm trend we've been seeing is going to continue into the month of February. As much as I am not a fan of winter, besides the ground freezing to kill off insects, a drastic decline in precipitation will cause lake and river levels to fall dramatically. This could seriously effect the fish that reside in sections of rivers that are regulated by hydo dams. Last summer when it was sorching hot and when the wind blew it felt like a blow torch the water below Mio on the Au Sable River reached 80 degrees! A north Michigan river guide made a statement "I guess we'll just see how much a brown trout can take" regarding high water temps. If this warm trend continues the cold water tributaries that lodge resident trout could again be in danger of high water temps. The water temps last year were not at all related to the winter of 2010-2011. That winter was freezing cold with lots of snow. The Farmer's Almanac states this summer is expected to be cool and dry. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what mother nature has in store.
With such warm temperatures winter steelhead fishing has been phenominal with plenty of fish in the rivers from the head waters to the tail. The key is covering alot of water to find the fish. Watching alot of my friends do very well through the month of January on the rivers, I had a slow month steelheading. Often times I find it hard to walk away from a run or a hole as I convince myself there is a fish down there and eventually they will grab that little egg pattern or nymph if presented properly. During the spring run it's not uncommon for me to sit on one hole or run for 2-3 hours. During the winter when I pull anchor and drift away from a run or a hole after only an hour I feel like I'm giving up on the fish.
Mike, Corey, & Belle enjoying a nice shore lunch on the Au Sable River.
A sport that we very much enjoy during the winter months is night time predator hunting during the full moon stages. The full moon stage of January was a bust since we had no snow cover and it appears this upcoming full moon on February 7th will be a bust as well with no snow in the forecast. Though early mornings and late evenings can bring fox and coyotes to the call, since a friend of 20 years Jereme Henderson turned me on to night hunting the full moon (which is perfectly legal in the state of Michigan) I've become a night time junky to predator hunting. If you spend an entire night bouncing from wood lot to wood lot setting up on tree lines or dikes, you're going to draw at least one dog out of the timber.
Why do we hunt coyotes besides the challenge being 100 times more then hunting whitetail deer? This photo should give you an idea...
That pretty much sums it up.
With lack of snow during the moon stage we typically hunt, a few friends have made it out for some daytime hunting. As for myself, I set a half dozen cable snares on a runway I've had good luck with over the past handful of years. Keep in mind snaring is only legal on private land.
Pictured above is a grey fox and a coyote both taken with non-lethal cable snares.
If you're planning on participating in the Shiver on the River fishing tournament, you should have your boat ready rather then an ice shanty! Though I don't chase gators, this year should be interesting as far as catches since there is no possibility of guys cheating by taking their snowmobiles ten miles out on the Saginaw Bay and hauling back huge fish and saying they caught them in the river.
Sorry guys, don't get too excited. This is no walleye...
But the image has been circulating the web and has been tried to be past off as a walleye. This is a Zander. A large fish typically caught in Europe. This is actually a big one!!!
In case you missed it, Punxsutawney Phil the ground hog predicted 6 more weeks of winter. What Phil doesn't know is Belle & I won't stand for such nonsense!