Hitting the Ice for a Pure Michigan Fishing Experience

By Chas Thompson – Professional Ice Fisher & Brewer

Crisp winter mornings bring on a tradition tracing back to the first bearded men seeking the tranquility and solitude of fishing. Walking across the frozen inland lakes in the sheer quiet and peace of winter to cut a hole and pursue some fresh fish for their family. Many taught by their grandfathers, Michigan Anglers do not simply give up on their passion in the winter…0they adapt. One of the fastest growing sports in the Midwest, ice fishing is one of our great Michigan traditions

Primitive man most likely used stone tools to break through the ice. It probably took them five to 10 minutes to crack through five to six inches of ice. In my youth, my grandfather took me out on the ice with a spud and some short poles best described as sticks with a steel wire and some fishing line. We chiseled a hole for each of us by pounding the steel spud bar into the ice. In just a few minutes, we had a hole. Later in my life, Grandpa Tuck bought a spoon auger imported from Sweden. This was high tech for the mid-70s. It had a razor-sharp cupped blade that would shave the ice. It still took just two to three minutes, but the hole was smooth and perfectly round. Technology had crept into our beloved primitive sport.

Today as we stroll out onto the ice, most will utilize a modern auger with dual sloped blades, sharpened to a razor’s edge. Smoothly cutting through the hard water, quickly making a perfectly round hole through the thickest ice. Many purists still hand crank the holes, but most have moved to powered augers. Gas, electric or even cordless drills spin the augers into the ice as you see anglers cross the ice in search of fish.

Anglers in the past would just pick a spot based on some landmarks on shore and drop their lure to the bottom and raise it a bit to wait for a feeding fish to happen by. As you moved north you would see more shelters and eventually fish houses where several anglers would gather to wait for the fish. In the 1980s, fish finders started to migrate off of the boats and onto the ice.  Specialized units started to show up as smaller batteries were developed and electronics shrunk. Today a majority of hard water fishermen carry an ice flasher onto the ice.  Many fully digital with advanced controls to finely tune into the activity under the ice. Smart phones have merged maps, bottom topography and GPS technology to guide anglers to structure and depth changes on lakes they may have never fished. Targeting fish has become easier than ever before.

Most inland lakes in Michigan are no stranger to pop-up or flip over shelters, providing an image of a village covering a vast frozen open that we as residents of the Great Lakes State love. Water, hard or soft, as the people of our state love to go to the lake. From the simple lone angler sitting on a bucket to the ice castles of the north, the allure of catching a mess of fish for dinner is a tradition that seems to cross economic and other social boundaries like no other sport in the state. As Michiganders we embrace all our seasons, but for ice fishermen, winter is sacred. In the breweries, tackle shops and other gathering places, you hear the call of a cold day cross the lips of eager anglers, “Makin’ Ice!”

We all smile seeing a young angler’s face, landing their first fish through the ice, proud parents or grandparents capturing another perfect Michigan memory.

Whether you’re new to ice fishing or are an experienced winter angler, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources invites you out for one of two annual FREE FISHING WEEKENDS…coming up February 15-16, 2020. For this weekend (as well as June 13-14, 2020), all fishing license fees are waived for both residents and out-of-state visitors on both inland lakes and Great Lakes waters, for all species of fish (all fishing regulations still apply). Additionally, a Recreation Passport will NOT be required for entry into state parks and recreation areas during Free Fishing Weekend.

For additional Pure Michigan ice fishing, visit the DNR website.


Chas. Thompson, a member of MiIceGuys.com and USA Ice Team spends his winter time ice fishing all over the world.