Through the ice: Ice fishing means more than catching fish (Part 1)
Ice fishing in northern Michigan promotes family fishing and aquatic stewardship education opportunities.
In the Great Lakes region, the winters can be long and cold. However, for many anglers—and communities— the annual freeze represents opportunity. Ice fishing reflects a way of life for many Michigan residents. For northern Michigan communities, ice fishing can represent much more than just the fish caught—especially when the focus is on inspiring young anglers, spending time with family and friends, or learning about Michigan’s Great Lakes and natural resources.
Ice fishing offers a chance to get outside during the winter months, extending your fishing season beyond the summer months. Ice fishing also encourages family involvement in outdoor activities, often with a goal of introducing young anglers to the fishing experience. When kids are involved, catching even the smallest of fish is rewarding.
This was true for the annual Don McEwen Kids Ice Fishing Tournament held on Jewell Lake in Alcona County, which invites youths and their families to brave the chill in pursuit of fish. During the same weekend, families and friends gathered on Grand Lake in Alpena for The Reel Fun Ice Fishing Tournament. Both events were hosted on February 16 as part of the annual winter free fishing weekend sponsored by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
These types of events reflect great opportunities to introduce new anglers to fishing. That is especially important because fishing license sales have been down in Michigan, a reflection of angler recruitment and retention trends. The trend is of concern because angler license sales are indicative of the community’s involvement in the aquatic resources and are central in helping fund fisheries management activities in Michigan, from which they benefit.
Aside from sparking enthusiasm among young anglers, these events serve as educational opportunities where participants might learn about the valuable water and fisheries resources of Michigan and the Great Lakes.
Michigan Sea Gant and Michigan 4-H Youth program staff, through the local Toyota-supported 4-H20 program, leveraged these Northeast Michigan fishing events as opportunities to promote water quality awareness and ecological stewardship among participants—after all, fish and fishing most certainly depend on healthy waters. On Jewell Lake, for example, youth not only caught fish but also learned about fish ecology and explored the science and technology involved in studying lakes and the fish that swim in them. Youth had an opportunity to explore different types of water sampling equipment, including driving remotely operated vehicles to explore the lake bottom. Another statewide Michigan State University Extension program, Project FISH, similarly supports these types of fishing events and community partnerships aimed at connecting fishing with youth development opportunities.
Ice fishing festivals and events can offer equally rich and rewarding community development opportunities. In part two of this series, we will explore some of these community and economic development opportunities connected with our winter ice fishing heritage.