By Carol Stiffler

Like a siren call, the ice on the Manistique Lakes has already attracted hearty fishermen. Though winter only technically began days ago, the ice is already thick enough in some places for snowmobiles to cross over.
“The fishing’s good,” said Mick of Mick’s Bait Shop in Curtis. Her store, located at W17351 Main Street, has been hopping with customers who are stocking up to head out onto the ice.

They’re catching walleye, perch, blue gill, pike, and bass, she reported. So far no whoppers, but they have hauled in some “nice fish”.

“There’s been 10-to-14 inch perch, and 18-to-22 inch walleye,” she said. The ice fishers are using jigging lures and having success with gold, pink, and blue colored lures.

Fishers are coming back to her shop with reports of ice thickness that varies between 5 and 12 inches.

This is a popular time for fishing, according to Cory Kovacs, a fisheries biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Families are together, the weather isn’t too brutal, and the ice isn’t overly thick.
“First ice is always good,” Kovacs said.

Earlier in winter, the ice is thin enough to let light penetrate, he said. “It increases photosynthesis, moves bait fish around, and that attracts larger fish,” Kovacs explained. As winter drags on and the ice thickens, the waters grow dark and cold, making fish lethargic.

The Manistique lakes in the Curtis and Lakefield area are very popular for ice fishing. Kovacs said all three of the Manistique lakes are walleye fisheries with stable walleye populations.

“There’s northern pike present in the South and Big Manistique lakes in Curtis,” he said. “The south lake gives a really good opportunity for pan fishermen, for bluegill, crappie, pumpkinseed. They do really well. The Big Manistique Lake has walleye, northern pike, and perch.”

Though the thinner ice is good for fishing, both Mick and Kovacs issued big cautions about heading out on the ice. It’s never safe, they agreed.

“We can never tell anyone it’s safe, because it’s ice,” Mick said.

Kovacs said every law enforcement department would say the same thing.

“Every ice angler needs to use caution on every ice they go on, period,” he stated. “We will never say it is safe. We will always err on the side of caution.”

Kovacs also reminded fishers who place permanent shacks on the ice to revisit their shack frequently to lift it above any slush that forms.

“On the colder days, those shacks will freeze right in,” he said. “It’s virtually impossible to remove those shacks come March when they need to be removed.”

By law, fishing shanties must have the owner’s name and address on all four sides. They are required to be removed from the ice by midnight on March 31.

That may seem far away, but our winter months are already one-third done. To make the other two-thirds more bearable, it might be best to head right out into the cold. But remember, if you venture out onto ice, be careful, and never assume it’s safe.