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Michigan's Winter Free Fishing Weekend Set for Feb. 14-15
January 29, 2009
Somewhere along the line in the history of marketing, someone came up with the idea of a free sample. The thought, of course, is simply to get the consumer to try something. If the consumer likes it, the mission has been accomplished: The consumer becomes a customer.
That's the same approach fisheries officials at the Department of Natural Resources are using Feb 14-15, when Michigan celebrates its 10th annual Winter Free Fishing Weekend. People have a chance to fish for two days without having to buy a fishing license."We believe there are a lot of people who would really enjoy fishing but have never really tried it," said DNR Chief of Fisheries Kelley Smith. "This is a classic free sample. It's an opportunity for folks age 17 and older to experience the fun of fishing without the added expense of a fishing license."
Winter offers a perfect opportunity for would-be anglers to get outside and try fishing as the ice generally allows access to areas of a lake that people ordinarily cannot get to without a boat. Winter Free Fishing Weekend always is scheduled for the weekend before Presidents Day, in mid-February, when ice conditions often are best.
Although getting started ice fishing might seem daunting, it is among the easiest fishing sports for beginners. All that's needed is something to open a hole in the ice -- a spud or an auger -- and rudimentary fishing equipment. Simple short rods, with or without reels, will do the trick for most panfish species, which are excellent quarry for beginners.
But ice fishing can be sophisticated, too. Veteran ice fishermen often build elaborate shanties and outfit them with high-tech equipment, such as depth finders and underwater cameras, to help them in their pursuit of some of Michigan's favorite game fish. Northern pike, walleye, lake trout -- you name it -- can be caught through the ice.
For those who are still unconvinced that they can pull it off, there's help available from a variety of sources. Numerous fishing clubs and service organizations around the state have scheduled events, many of them designed for youngsters, at no or low cost.
Several Michigan state parks and recreation areas have special programs designed for beginners with free fishing clinics before getting started and fishing tackle available on-site for no fee, except for the daily ($6) or annual ($24) permit for entry into the park.
Need an example? A program at the Oden State Fish Hatchery, located about five miles east of Petoskey, begins with a brief clinic at the visitor center to familiarize anglers with basic equipment and techniques, tips on ice safety, and then moves to nearby Crooked Lake where experienced anglers will assist neophytes with everything from drilling holes to baiting hooks. Loaner equipment is available, lures and baits are furnished, and warm refreshments will be served throughout the day.
Maureen Jacobs-Stine, the interpreter at Oden, says the ice fishing clinics are the most popular winter programs at the hatchery.
"Hands down," Jacobs-Stine said. "We also do animal tracking, snowshoeing, ecology hikes, but those never get the crowds that we get for fishing. Not even close."
At Bay City State Recreation Area, ice fishing is just one part of the daylong Winter Festival held on Saturday. The program includes winter hikes, bird-watching and bird-feeding clinics, live animal programs and snowshoe expeditions.
"We average around 1,000 people every year," said Valerie Blaschka, the interpreter at Bay City State Recreation Area. "We had as few as 200 one year, when it was 55 degrees and nobody had ice fishing on their minds, and other years we've topped 2,000.
"The ice fishing is one of our main events."
As part of the program, youngsters will be able to build their own fishing poles and make their own lures from supplies provided free of charge. There's a fishing-tips clinic and ice-safety clinic (put on by the U.S. Coast Guard); then it's out to the Tobico Lagoon for fishing.
"We drill the holes and we've got 50 ice fishing poles for loan," Blaschka said. "We provide free bait and a lot of the guys from the Saginaw Bay Walleye Club bring out their shanties and let the youngsters sit in them and try them out. The club members also help with the fishing."
There's also an ice fishing derby that takes place throughout the day with hundreds of prizes, ranging from fishing lures to a combination tackle box/ice fishing chair, as well as a big trophy for the youngster who catches the biggest fish.
Ice fishing is enjoyable recreation for all ages and most programs designed for youths welcome the adults to come along and get in on the fun. And for those who are successful, well, many epicures say that fresh fish caught from the cold water beneath the ice is the best-eating fish you can get.
Best of all, fishing allows folks the opportunity to spend time with family and friends, create memories and take in the sights and sounds associated with the great outdoors.
Remember discovering the wonders of the outdoors when you were a kid? Winter Free Fishing Weekend is a chance to recreate those memories and build new ones.
And who knows? You might just discover how much fun you've missed by not fishing through the ice before. Maybe you'll become regular customer.
For a list of Winter Free Fishing Weekend activities, visit the DNR's Web site at www.michigan.gov/fishing.
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