Michigan families sure are lucky. We get to enjoy all four seasons and natural wonders from marshlands to sand dunes – plus our incomparable “great” lakes.
In fact, we have 11,000 of them, and they’re home to some 150 species of fish. No wonder it’s a cherished tradition to cast a line off a boat or a dock to try to lure in a brown trout, yellow perch or walleye.
Maybe you’ve even heard – or shared your own – stories about catching that elusive whopper. After all, fishing is a low-cost, low-skill adrenaline rush that gets kids to toss their tech for the call of the wild as they bond with their families.
And fishing with a valid license can help to protect our waterways, lakes and marshlands, too.
The Michigan Wildlife Council and the Department of Natural Resources are always looking to improve and maintain the state’s habitats. Both encourage families to fish away – but, before you bait your line and cast out, both have some tips you should know to make the most of your experience.
Preparing for the trip
The great thing about fishing, explains Elyse Walter, communication specialist for the Michigan DNR, is that it doesn’t take much to get started.
“Fishing is such a low-entry sport,” she says. “There’s not a lot of upfront investment and there’s not much skill required, especially if you’re doing hook-and-line from shore.”
You basically just need to pick up a pole for each person, some bait and a copy of the DNR’s 2018 fishing guide, which is available online or at any sporting goods retailer.
“In it, you’ll find a variety of things you need to be aware of,” Walter says. “You need to be aware of size limits – if you intend to keep your catch, it must be a certain size – and you must know about daily possession limits, because you can only have so many fish in your possession.”
In that book, you’ll also find what fish you are allowed to catch, which fish you can take home and which fish you must throw back, legal bait and even local fishing events like the state’s annual Free Fishing Weekends, which happen in June and February, and “Hook, Line and Sinker” fishing courses.
Anglers over the age of 16, including adults who are helping kids fish, also need a valid fishing license. You can get an annual resident pass for $26, a 24-hour pass for $10 or a 72-hour pass for $30. There are also options for combo hunting-and-fishing licenses.
Licenses can be purchased through the Michigan DNR and at most sporting goods stores. Best of all, you can be assured that the money you spend on these licenses goes to great causes.
“Michigan’s fishing license dollars go directly back into the resource to support a variety of things we do,” Walter explains. “We have six hatcheries and walleye-rearing ponds to supplement natural populations of those fish or create them. We’re implementing regulations to protect them, and we’re monitoring the changes based on where we are and the species we are looking for.”
They’re also looking for and removing non-native species that may harm an area’s natural ecosystem.
“Throughout the state, great work is done to help manage our wildlife and natural resources – including management of invasive species,” says Matt Pedigo, chair of the Michigan Wildlife Council. “Our natural resources are part of Michigan’s outdoor heritage and something we want to be here for generations. All Michigan residents enjoy the state’s beautiful forests, waters and wildlife, which is why we take great care to protect and enhance these valuable assets.”
And if you don’t fish or hunt, you can still help out by purchasing a license, Walter adds.
“Even if you’re not a user, it’s a wonderful investment in the resource,” she says.
Bringing the kids
In addition to helping out the environment, families that go fishing together also gift valuable lessons to their kids.
“It’s fun to be outdoors and step away from the daily hustle and bustle, and it’s wonderful to be out and part of the stillness that is fishing,” Walter explains. “You can learn patience, and there can be a lot of points of excitement.”
Realistically though, this mother of two adds, you can’t expect an antsy younger child to sit with his or her pole until a bite happens.
“Sometimes when we go fishing, we have to let kids go exploring,” she says. “I know they might cast for a few minutes, but I also need to let them throw rocks, poke around in the mud and find sticks. I need to let them control their experience.”
She also suggests bringing along a special treat to help keep kids excited. For example, in her childhood, her father would bring Hostess Sno Balls, which she only got when she went fishing.
And, when choosing a spot to take your kids fishing, she thinks it’s important to take a look at the experience you want them to have.
“There are so many different environments you can be in,” she says. “There are inland lakes, where you’re part of a neighborhood, or more rural spots. You can pick the immersion experience that you want to have, and parents can choose a familiar or unfamiliar place for their kid to explore.”
In southeast Michigan, there is a plethora of fishing spots to choose from, including the Trenton Channel, Pontiac Lake, Stony Creek Lake in Shelby Township and Winnewana Impoundment in Washtenaw County. For a complete list, visit michigan.gov/dnr.
“When you feel that fish bite on the line and you’re reeling it in, there’s such a feeling of surprise, and what kid wouldn’t want to experience that?” Walter says.
“To be able to cast out into a water body and have that feeling is so priceless.”
To learn more about the Michigan Wildlife Council, visit hereformioutdoors.org.