It is early January, and unlike last year, we are just now seeing the first ice forming on our inland lakes. As we all have witnessed, it has been an incredibly mild winter so far all across Michigan, and northern Michigan is no different. With the recent cold snap, and last night’s lows in the low teens, we are making some ice! We have had our Sport Fish Michigan guides out doing ice checks the past few days, in both Grand Traverse and Benzie Counties.
Most of the smaller inland lakes have 1-4 inches of ice on them. Some of the lakes closer to Lake Michigan just have ice around the fringes. Lakes like Little Platte Lake, Otter, Long Lake in Benzie County all have ice. There is also a fair bit of snow on top of the ice making for slushy conditions already. The ice is about 2-3 inches, and building. Betsie Bay, near Frankfort, froze over last night, and hopefully the heavy south winds this afternoon haven’t broken it back up.
In Grand Traverse County, small lakes like Dubonnet and Cedar Hedge are also showing about 2-3 inches of ice. The bigger, deeper lakes have too much wave action to freeze just yet, but we are getting closer. Hopefully by this time next week, we should see at least some skim ice over the rest of the lakes.
First ice here in northern Michigan is an awesome time to take advantage of some great pan fish action as well as northern pike. Both perch and bluegill bite aggressively during early ice conditions. Shallow flats adjacent to gradual drop offs can hold schools of pan fish, and where these drops slope into deeper water is always a good bet to start looking for active schools. Northern pike roam the shallow weedy flats and drop offs during first ice looking for an easy meal. Tip-ups with sucker minnows or shiners are the preferred presentation for these toothy critters. Walleyes also can go on a great early-ice bite. Low light periods tend to be the prime time to target ‘eyes up shallow. Either with a tip-up or with jigging techniques, walleyes will draw lots of attention again this winter.
Sport Fish Michigan’s guides and customers are looking forward to a great 2016 season on the ice. With any ice, caution should always be taken but especially with early first-ice. We all have the itch to get out for that first-ice bite, but please take care when heading out. It’s always better to play on the safe side. This report should only be used as a reference point, since ice conditions can change rapidly with differing weather patterns. Use your best judgment and check the ice with a spud as you walk. And always make sure you either go with a friend or you let somebody know where you plan on fishing and for how long. Have fun out on the ice, and we look forward to seeing you out there!