The sight of our national symbol, the bald eagle, is always exciting and winter is a great time to get a glimpse of these birds in southwest Michigan. But there wasn’t always a time eagles were around. During the last 50 years, bald eagles have made an incredible comeback after their numbers plummeted in the 1960s and 70s due to pesticides. Thanks to protection from the federal government and the outlawing of the pesticide DDT, we are now able to once again view eagles in southwest Michigan. While their numbers still aren’t what they used to be, winter is a prime time to see them in the area. Bald eagles from farther north in Michigan migrate further south for the winter months before travelling north again in the spring. We do have eagles year-round, but fewer than in the winter. There were only four nesting pairs of bald eagles in the county last summer. Good areas to look for bald eagles in the area are by open water, and dams especially, where they can catch fish. In the winter, when lakes and river freeze over, bald eagles can also be found scavenging on carcasses. Last year I saw one in the middle of a crop field feasting on a dead white-tailed deer. Remember that adults (6 years of age or older) display white head feathers, but younger eagles will have a black and white mottled pattern on their wings and a dark brown head and body.
Fishing The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reminds anglers that are heading out fishing, to do their part to keep them and others safe by following COVID-19 public health and safety guidelines. Go fishing only if they are feeling well. Practice proper social distancing (at least 6 feet away from people who do not live in their household) and keep a face covering handy for when social distancing cannot be maintained. Frequently wash their hands with soap and warm water, or use hand sanitizer. Warmer temperatures brought out more anglers last week, looking to get that one last fishing trip in. Those targeting the inland lakes did manage to catch a few bass, pike, walleye, perch and other panfish, including bluegills and crappie. The muskie bite is starting to pick up and the water levels on the rivers remain low and clear, which makes fishing much more difficult. While more anglers were out on the inland lakes, they should be aware that docks at the boat launches are starting to be pulled. Smallmouth bass anglers found a few fish in 20 to 25 feet of water when using blade baits. Bluegills were suspended in 30 to 40 feet. Ellinee Bait & Tackle on Paw Paw Lake by Coloma reported more anglers out on the local lakes this past week. Fishing was slow but they were able to get a good catch of panfish if they were patient. Bluegills and crappie were biting along with other panfish. South Haven and St. Joseph pier anglers were out when the weather allowed, targeting steelhead and whitefish. The St. Joseph River had a good number of steelhead moving through the ladder at Berrien Springs. Shore anglers that were surf fishing were getting steelhead up by Saugatuck. Grand Haven pier anglers targeted steelhead with spawn and whitefish with a single egg or wax worm. With the colder months quickly approaching, many anglers may be getting ready to store their gear for the season. Here are few maintenance tips from the DNR they should follow so their gear is cared for and ready to be used next season. Make sure gear is clean and completely dry before storing it. Start by cleaning everything (rods, reels and line) in fresh water with soap or with the manufacturer’s recommended solution to remove any materials that may have become attached or embedded. Inspect gear for any damage and make any repairs or prepare for replacements. Don’t store any gear in direct sunlight or in a place where heat and/or moisture might build up. Air waders out completely and hang them upside-down for the months they are out of use.
Hunting License system vendor issues affected deer hunting license sales across Michigan. The DNR reported that some hunters may not have been able to purchase a base license and deer kill tags on opening day. The issues which are occurring across several states were being worked on by the DNR and the Sovereign Sportsman Solutions, who provide the licensing system. DNR conservation officers that will be patrolling throughout the season were going to take these circumstances into consideration while making contacts with hunters. Hunters who were not able to obtain a legally issued kill tag for their deer due to system outages were asked to affix a temporary kill tag using materials they have on hand. The temporary tag was to include the same information normally found on a kill tag: identification of the hunter; date the deer was killed; sex of the animal; number of antler points on each side. Hunters were encouraged to continue checking online or with local retailers for updates. At the November 12 meeting of the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) meeting, a new package of deer regulations was introduced and is expected to be voted on for the 2021 fall deer hunting season, in December or January. The proposed changes are meant to further simplify deer regulations and remove barriers to participation in deer hunting. If approved, the regulations will provide additional opportunity, cost savings and flexibility for deer hunters. The data shows that the changes will not have a significant negative effect on the deer herd or the quality of deer hunting. Hunter feedback on the proposed regulations for the 2021 fall deer hunting season is encouraged at NRC meetings or by email to NRC@Michigan.gov or DNR-Wildlife@Michigan.gov. Enjoy small game hunting with just a base license. Small game species currently open to hunting include: Cottontail rabbit and Snowshoe Hare through March 31, 2021; Ruffed grouse December 1 – January 1; and Squirrel hunting (both fox and gray) through March 31, 2021, Visit Michigan.gov/Hunting for small game hunting information and see the 2020 Hunting Digest for regulations and bag limits. If they haven’t already, it’s time for snowmobile users to pull their snowmobiles out of storage, prep them for winter and purchase their 2020-2021 snowmobile trail permit. A snowmobile trail permit is needed for legal operation on Michigan’s 6,000-plus miles of state-designated trails and thousands more miles of public roads and open land (where authorized). Designated trails are open December 1 through March 31, 2021 with grooming occurring when there is adequate snow. The snowmobile program is 100% funded with trail permit dollars.