A muskrat is a common aquatic mammal measuring 20 inches, with a 9-inch long skinny tail. They can be seen swimming and eating omnivorously any time of day and any time of year in small bodies of water or marshes, but one of the most obvious signs a muskrat is around is their home. Muskrat lodges on small ponds and wetlands are most noticeable in the winter, when most trees and other plants have lost their leaves. These lodges are created with emergent vegetation, cattails being a favorite, and mud. The lodge stays about 36 degrees warmer than the air, allowing a safe retreat for a muskrat family. Muskrats can also make bank dens if there is an elevated shoreline. Another visible sign of muskrats are “push-ups” and canals, which are narrow, water-filled channels dug through the bottom mud in shallow water. They radiate from the house or den and provide convenient passageways through the marsh vegetation. Get your tickets now for the Exotic Wildlife Safari with Nelson the Animal Guy on Saturday, Feb. 22, with shows at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. & 3 p.m. at the nature center. This show is great fun for the whole family and will introduce you to live animals, such possible guests as an alligator, Eurasian eagle owl, fennec fox, sugar glider, Siberian lynx, and more. For tickets please call us at 269-927-4832 and see our website for prices.
Fishing The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reports that the rivers around the state have open-water fishing for the most part. Colder temperatures over the next few weeks should help with ice formation, especially in the southern reaches of the Lower Peninsula. The Ellinee Bait & Tackle shop on Paw Paw Lake by Coloma reported very little fishing was going on in our local area. Anglers are still waiting for ice as there is little available. Van Auken channels, Coloma channel, and Lake of the Woods had some ice, but it was very poor and really not safe to be on. No action to speak of on the Paw Paw River or other near-by inland lakes. In the southwest Lower Peninsula, while some lakes had a little ice, there was no safe ice, especially in the southern areas the DNR reported. Any remaining ice that refreezes will be questionable, as the thickness may not be uniform. Anglers should use extreme caution. St. Joseph anglers were taking limit catches of coho salmon when the weather permits. Spawn bags fished on the bottom between the pier heads worked well as did trolling small spoons and plugs around the piers and along the beach. The steelhead action on the St. Joseph River has picked up as well as the action on the Kalamazoo River. Those fishing up near the Allegan Dam caught steelhead and the occasional walleye. On the Grand River near Grand Rapids, steelhead moved in during the last warm spell. Fish were caught on jigs with wax worms, spawn and beads. Use bright-colored jigs up near the dam. Those fishing off the wall and Fulton Street have found some walleye. Steelhead has been caught in the Rogue River as well when using jigs with wax worms, spawn or beads. Darker colors work better in the Rogue. DNR fishing tip this week is fishing for walleye and whitefish on Saginaw Bay. Many anglers flock to Saginaw Bay in the winter to target walleye and experience an added perk – the possibility of catching lake whitefish. To target walleye, many anglers jig with spoons of various colors. You may want to tip your spoon with a minnow to further entice them. To target lake whitefish, anglers use spawn or a wax worm on a spoon to encourage bites. Visit Michigan.gov/fishing for even more information on fishing for walleye and lake whitefish. This year’s sturgeon season on Black Lake in Cheboygan County ended at 1:40 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1 – not quite six hours after the day’s 8:00 a.m. start. The season which included spearing or hook-and-line fishing, was scheduled to run Feb. 1-5, or until the harvest quota of six fish set by the DNR was taken. There were a total of 472 registered anglers on the ice Saturday, the highest total since the inception of the open sturgeon fishery. People of all ages again participated and from a number of states. According to the DNR, three of the six sturgeons harvested were males ranging from 44 to 60 inches in length, and 16 to 51 pounds in weight. The three females ranged from 47 to 75 inches long, and 19 to 100 pounds in weight. Three of the six fish had been captured before by Michigan State University and the DNR during spring spawning runs in the Black River. The largest fish, the 75-inch female weighing 100 pounds, had been captured and tagged during the 2004 and 2008 spawning runs. For more information on lake sturgeon in Michigan, visit Michigan.gov/Sturgeon. Don’t forget the 2020 Winter Free Fishing Weekend this year is Saturday, Feb. 15 and Sunday, Feb. 16. On those two days, everyone – residents and nonresidents alike – can fish without a license and the DNR will waive the regular Recreation Passport entry fee. All other fishing regulations still apply. In addition, no fishing license is required and the passport fee will be waived on Monday, Feb. 17, to coincide with the DNR’s changeover to a new license sales system. While many will bundle up and head out on their own, there are several organized events happening throughout the state, including: a Winter Festival at Bay City State Park in Bay County, Wild about Winter Activity Day at Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in Van Buren County, Winterfest at Rifle River Recreation Area in Ogemaw County and an Ice Fishing Derby at Seven Lakes State Park. Check Michigan.gov/FreeFishing for more events around the state, as well as other details about the weekend. Hunting The DNR will be doing a license sales system upgrade Saturday, Feb. 15 – noon Tuesday, Feb. 18. DNR licenses, permits and applications will not be sold in stores or online during that time. To avoid any interruption to outdoor activities this weekend, please purchase any necessary licenses or permits early. A preprinted trail permit will be available at select dealers selling preprinted ORV licenses and ORV and snowmobile trail permits while the system is down. Existing eLicense customers will keep their usernames but will have to reset their passwords the first time they log in to the new system, starting Feb. 18. Don’t forget to mail Wetland Wonders Challenge punch cards. Hunters, if you have not yet submitted your punch card for the Consumer’s Energy-sponsored Challenge, be sure to mail it in by Feb. 21. Cards with three or more punches can be mailed to: DNR Detroit Metro Customer Service Center, ATTN: Holly Vaughn, 1801 Atwater Street, Detroit, MI 48207. Punch cards must be postmarked by Feb. 21. Seven lucky winners will be chosen and all seven will take home a golden ticket, good for one first-choice pick at a managed waterfowl area drawing (non-reserved) for the 2020-2021 waterfowl hunting season. In addition, winners will receive a $500 gift card for waterfowl hunting gear, a Yeti water bottle and a Zink custom duck call. Michigan United Conservation Clubs will select winners on March 1. For more information contact Holly Vaughn at 313-396-6863 or visit Michigan.gov/WetlandWonders.