MARQUETTE - This weekend's Free Fishing Weekend - which allows resident and non-resident anglers to fish without having to buy a license - provides great opportunities for wintertime recreation across Michigan, including the Moose Lodge Fishing Derby on AuTrain Lake in Alger County.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources offers the free weekend each February, along with another weekend of free fishing each summer in June.
"The winter Free Fishing Weekend always occurs on Presidents' Day weekend, which presents a great opportunity to have friends and family who live nearby in Wisconsin, or in more distant states, come up for the long weekend and try ice fishing for free," said DNR spokeswoman Debbie Munson-Badini in Marquette. "Of course, the hope is that visitors will get hooked on fishing and want to come try it again in the future."
A local family fishes through the ice on Teal Lake in Negaunee in January 2013. The upcoming Free Fishing Weekend is a great chance for families to experience some outdoor winter recreation without having to purchase a fishing license. (Journal file photo by John Pepin)
An angler pulls a line on a tip up while fishing on Teal Lake. Bottom, ice fishing can bring great table fare to the fore including northern pike, walleye and perch shown here from Teal Lake. (Journal file photo by John Pepin)
Ice fishing can bring great table fare to the fore including northern pike, walleye and perch shown here from Teal Lake in Marquette County. The upcoming Free Fishing Weekend is a great chance to get outdoors and experience some winter recreation. (Journal photo by John Pepin)
DNR officials said Michigan has celebrated the winter Free Fishing Weekend every year since 1994 as a way to promote awareness of and better connection to the state's vast aquatic resources and fishing opportunities.
With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and 11,000 inland lakes - Michigan and fishing are a perfect match, DNR officials said.
"Michigan is home to many fun and family-friendly outdoor activities during the colder months - and fishing is definitely among the most popular," said DNR Director Keith Creagh in a news release. "Our winter Free Fishing Weekend is a great time for people to get outdoors and explore the state's broad range of Pure Michigan fishing opportunities. There's something for everyone - on your own, with a friend or with the whole family."
Badini said given the large number of lakes in Michigan, it's surprising how many people haven't gone ice fishing.
"This is the best time to try it, since there are ice fishing tournaments and 'how-to' clinics scheduled in communities across the state where experienced anglers can give beginners a hand," Badini said.
The DNR compiles a list of fishing events taking place over the weekend. There are activities on the list taking place in Gogebic, Keweenaw and Alger counties in the Upper Peninsula.
That Alger County event is the 30th annual Moose Lodge Fishing Derby, which is scheduled to take place from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. Saturday on AuTrain Lake in AuTrain Township.
The derby costs $10 to enter for adults and is free for children 12 years old and younger who fish with a registered adult. Participants can register for the derby at the Moose Lodge on Superior Street in Munising or on the day of the event at the boat house on AuTrain Lake.
Derby awards will be presented at 5 p.m. at the Moose Lodge, where dinner will be available from 3:30 to 5 p.m.
Badini said recent winter weather conditions have helped this year's Free Fishing Weekend.
"Considering the extremely cold winter we've had so far, there are plenty of ice-covered lakes to explore during this year's winter Free Fishing Weekend," Badini said. "Anglers looking to try something new might consider fishing for splake through the ice on Lake Superior, which has become a popular near-shore winter fishing opportunity in Marquette, Munising and Copper Harbor."
While there will be no license required to fish this weekend, all fishing regulations remain in effect.
The weekend may also provide opportunities for DNR creel clerks to gather data about angler fishing trips.
These efforts are part of the DNR's Statewide Angler Survey Program, a long-term monitoring program designed to track recreational fisheries across Michigan waters of the Great Lakes.
"The point of this program is to characterize how many fish are harvested, how many hours anglers spend fishing and what fish they're targeting," said DNR fisheries biologist Tracy Kolb. "The primary goal is to ensure we have enough information to manage our fisheries across the state."
In a brief interaction with anglers, the clerks ask how long the angler fished, what species they were after, what they caught and where they live. The clerks sometimes may ask to measure or weigh fish or take scale samples.
Creel clerks are stationed this winter at Munising, Au Train, Marquette, Keweenaw Bay, Little Bay de Noc and Menominee Harbor. Starting April 1, creel clerks will appear at Great Lakes boating access sites, fishing piers and shorelines across the entire Great Lakes coastline to survey spring, summer and fall fisheries.
For more information, see: www.michigan. gov/freefishing
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.