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. 


Chill Out at the 2019 Mackinaw City Winter Festival, January 18-19

For more than a quarter century, Mackinaw City has rolled out the white carpet for a weekend of seasonal fun and excitement fit for the entire family. The 26th Annual Mackinaw City Winter Festival is scheduled for January 18-19, 2019. Most of activities are free with a 2019 Winter Fest Button. Buttons can be purchased for $3 each or 4 for $10 at the Chamber of Commerce Office, various businesses around town and at each event site during the festival until they are all gone.




Please note: Ice fishing & snow sculpting are the only weather dependent events.

For lodging reservations throughout the remainder of the fall and into the winter season, visit MackinawCity.com/stay/.

Experience Winter in the Mackinaw Area

Photo credit: Petoskey News Review

While often thought of us just a summer destination, the Straits of Mackinac is known to roll out the white carpet during the winter season with special events and outdoor activities like hiking, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.

The season kicks off on Friday, December 1 at 5pm with the Christmas Parade starting at 5pm at the Marina parking lot and traveling north on Huron Avenue to Central Avenue, to Nicolet Street and ending at Indian Pathways Park for the lighting of the city Christmas tree.

Christmas in Mackinaw is planned for Saturday, December 2 from 2-4pm at the Mackinaw Area Historical Society Heritage Village, just west of downtown. Between Noon and 4pm on Saturday, a series of fun-filled family events are offered including sleigh or hay rides (12-2), a Christmas program at Heritage Chapel (3pm), crafts at Freedom School (2-2:45pm) and visits with Santa at the 1869 McGulpin Point Lighthouse (1-3pm). All programs are free, but donations are welcome.

On Saturday, December 16, the 2nd Annual Antique Snowmobile Mighty Mac Bridge Crossing will take place, starting in Mackinaw City and traveling five miles across the Mackinac Bridge to St. Ignace. This is the only time of the year that sleds are allowed on the bridge and certain rules and regulations apply. The Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum in Naubinway is organizing the event and has details available online at www.snowmobilemuseum.com.

The award-winning Headlands International Dark Sky Park is hosting several events over the next few months, including:

The 25th Annual Mackinaw City Winter Festival is scheduled for January 19-20. Highlights of this event include both amateur and professional snow sculpting competitions, sleigh and wagon rides, outhouse races, a poker walk, arts and crafts, a chili cook-off, Euchre tournament and more.

Just 30 miles south of Mackinaw City, Big Bear Adventures in Indian River offers 90-minute guided winter rafting trips along the Sturgeon River—note as the fastest in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Offered for group up to 12, with three trips a day, seven days a week, this is a great way to experience the winter season in a unique way. Big Bear also offers cross country ski and snowshoe rentals, and will help coordinate packages for all their seasonal activities.

Throughout the winter season, trails for hiking, snowshoeing and even snowmobiling welcome visitors to the area. While there is no access to the regular parking lot at Historic Mill Creek, you can park near the entry area and the hiking trails from there – at no charge. Wilderness State Park offers not only winter hiking and cross-country skiing along 20 miles of trails in addition to snowmobiling, but overnight accommodations in rustic cabins or in your own tent area allowed.

Mackinaw City is centrally-located to provide snowmobile access to the Straits area. Utilize the north central State Trailhead located off of Crossing’s Drive to experience the DNR’s groomed routes, connecting Mackinaw to Cheboygan, Petoskey, Gaylord, Rogers City, Alpena and places south. The Mackinac Bridge Authority offers a ride for you and your sled north across the Bridge for $10 plus $2 additional for an extra passenger to access the trails north of the Bridge.

For lodging reservations throughout the remainder of the fall and into the winter season, visit MackinawCity.com/stay/.