Fishing It appears ice fishing season has started, especially in the northern areas of the state the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says. With that said, anglers are reminded that first ice and last ice are the most dangerous ice, and caution needs to be used. Be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return, check the ice thickness with a spud and wear a life jacket. It could save your life. Most of this area (Southwest Lower Peninsula) has no safe ice. Many lakes still have open water or very thin ice. Anglers will have to wait until the next big freeze. Ellinee Bait & Tackle located on Paw Paw Lake by Coloma reports they had heard there was ice in the channels on Van Auken Lake and Lake of the Woods, earlier last week before the warm up. Now that little bit of ice is gone until the next freeze. They had reports that the anglers were happy with the catch they got as the fish were biting. Anglers fishing the local rivers, Kalamazoo River, St. Joseph River, Black River and Grand River at Grand Rapids, are still getting a few steelheads. Most are floating spawn or a jig and wax worm, back bouncing spawn bags or trolling plugs. The DNR fishing tip of the week is how to target popular fish species in the winter. Walleye: Early-ice Walleyes are known to be active and aggressive. Use tip-ups at varying depths around the lake (anywhere from 15 to 35 feet deep) to appeal to this species. Regardless of the depth, always set the live minnow under the tip-up to swim 12 to 15 inches off the bottom. Crappie: Consider using plastic bait, rather than live bait, when fishing for crappie. Focus on weed lines to find them. A lot of times crappie will hang out in the middle of the water column, half-way between the ice and the bottom. Northern pike: You’ll find these aggressive fish near off-shore structures and weed lines, so try these types of spots on your favorite pike lakes first. Yellow perch: Attract bigger perch by using tip-ups with minnows. That is what they’re primarily eating this time of year. Sticking a minnow on an ice fishing rod is also very productive. For more information on fishing during Michigan’s winter, visit www.michigan.gov/fishing.
Hunting Alcona County hunters – you still have time to visit a deer check station. In October, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development announced that a large beef herd in Alcona County is infected with bovine tuberculosis, the 18th herd infection in this county since cattle testing began in the late 1990s. Emily Sewell, DNR wildlife health specialist said, “We also observed an increase in the apparent prevalence of the disease in free-ranging deer last year.” This increase occurred in both Deer Management Unit 452, the core area for the disease, and in the surrounding Deer Management Unit 487. It is important for successful hunters to bring their deer to a check station. Keep in mind that less than 50 percent of positive deer have actual lesions in the chest cavity or lungs that a hunter may see when field dressing the animal. The only way to know if your deer is positive is to have it tested. Visit www.michigan.gov/deercheck to find the location and hours of deer check stations. For more information, contact Emily Sewell at 231-340-1821. A late antlerless firearm hunt on private land in southern Alpena County will be held January 3-6 and January 10-13. The DNR is offering this season to provide an opportunity for deer management at a localized scale in the bovine tuberculosis (bTB) area. The hunt area is private land south of Highway M-32 in Alpena County. People who would like to hunt, but do not own property in the area, are still able to participate. The DNR’s Hunting Access Program, or HAP, provides access to quality private land across the state to increase public hunting opportunities. Multiple locations in the southern half of Alpena County are enrolled in a short-term lease exclusively for this January 2019 hunt. Enrolled properties can be viewed at www.michigan.gov/hap. Contact DNR wildlife health specialist Emily Sewell with any questions at 231-340-1821. A 60-year-old Taylor resident has been charged with the illegal killing of a bull elk, after an investigation by the Michigan DNR conservation officers and police in Otsego County. The incident occurred Saturday, south of Vanderbilt. The name of the man is not being released pending his arraignment in Otsego County District Court. The charge is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 160 days in jail and a fine of $2,000. In addition, mandatory penalties include $5,000 restitution for the animal, more for an antlered elk, and hunting privileges being revoked for 15 years on a first offense. Meanwhile, conservation officers are continuing their investigation into a November elk poaching case in Montmorency County. In that incident, two bull elk carcasses were discovered on Saturday, November 17 off Montmorency County Road 622, near Roth Road. The location is situated about seven miles north of Atlanta, just south of Clear Lake State Park. The animals appeared to have been shot Thursday, November 15, the opening day of the firearm deer hunting season. Anyone with information regarding the November elk poaching should call the DNR Gaylord Customer Service Center at 989-732-3541 or the 24-hour DNR Report All Poaching line at 800-292-7800. Information can be left anonymously; monetary rewards may be offered for information that leads to the arrest of violators.
Every year in the last few weeks of December, birders around the country bundle up and head outside to count birds for a whole day. The National Audubon Christmas Bird Count originally started in 1900 when an ornithologist and Audubon officer named Frank M. Chapman suggested a yearly bird census. Previous to the bird census, many people engaged in a Christmas “side hunt,” where they would hunt and try to collect the largest pile of feathered and furred animals. Luckily with Chapman’s foresight, along with 27 other dedicated birders, the first Christmas Bird Count was held and a new tradition started. With the yearly bird census data from around the country, Audubon and other organizations are able to assess bird populations and help guide conservation efforts. Birdwatchers are needed on Sunday, December 30 starting at 8 a.m. to take part in the annual National Audubon Christmas Bird Count and record as many birds as possible. Call with questions and registration. The Nature Center will be closed December 24 and 25 but the trails will be open. Join us Friday, December 28 from 10:00 a.m. to noon to make bird feeder crafts to hang at your home and learn about birds seen at feeders and around southwest Michigan in the winter. Many crafts will be available for children and adults ages 6 and up. Cost is $8 for nonmembers. Please call to register at (269) 927-4832.
Risk assessments now available through Berrien Conservation Dist. It is essential to be able to identify risks on the farm; especially when growing fresh fruit and vegetables. The Berrien Conservation District has added two new programs, the Produce Safety Risk Assessment and On-farm Readiness Review, to help farmers in Berrien, Van Buren, Kalamazoo and Allegan counties assess their risks when growing, handling, harvesting, storing and transporting their fresh produce. The Produce Safety Risk Assessment (PSRA) is completed by a Produce Safety Technician and the farm operator and is completely confidential, voluntary and free. All information will stay on the farm and is to be used for educational purposes for the operation. A PSRA can be requested by any grower; regardless of acres, produce output, income and method of distribution. On average, they can help gauge the level of produce safety risks on the farm within a couple hours. The off-season is a great time to take advantage of a risk assessment. An assessment can be requested by contacting the conservation district at (269) 471-9111 ext. 3 or by emailing the Produce Safety Technician, Victoria Toney, at Victoria.Toney@macd.org.