Find secluded lakes for wild-feeling fishing experiences

Heading out a tiny channel to Fish Lake on a misty morning. Photo; Howard Meyerson

Heading out a tiny channel to Fish Lake on a misty morning. Photo; Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Little out-of-the-way lakes often have a special allure. Small and quiet with no shoreline development, they are wild-feeling places where fishing is just fun.

I was reminded of these little gems recently. It was misty and overcast when I launched a canoe at Fish Lake, a 165-acre Barry County water surrounded by state land. Only one angler was out, but I was greeted by a natural chorus of sandhill cranes calling in the distance and a bevy of red-winged blackbirds trilling in the cattails.

I’d come prepared to drift along the shallows, casting poppers and rubber-spiders to entice bluegills and bass. I’d rigged a light spinning rod with a countdown Rapala too, just in case. Both tactics were productive, the fly rod especially so. The fish weren’t big, but the fishing was fun.

Once managed

Fish Lake has narrow, rocky shallows and a steep drop-off that plunges to 56 feet. The lake was managed by the Michigan DNR for many years. Its last survey, in 1994, turned up bluegills, perch, largemouth bass and black crappies, a few northern pike and brown trout and ciscoes. The trout were last stocked in 1979, but they now naturally reproduce in Hough Creek which feeds the lake.

“The growth rate for the bluegills and pumpkinseed is slower than average, but they are still acceptable, 7 inches to 9 inches. Occasionally, you find 10-inchers,” noted Kregg Smith, fisheries biologist with the DNR’s Plainwell office. “It’s a lake that appeals to anglers who want to canoe and belly-boat.”

It should be said the lake also produced a state master angler red-ear sunfish in 2013. The fish was 11.6 inches long. It took a worm in June. Continue reading

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Researchers considering non-toxic lamprey control on northern Michigan waters

Sea lamprey continue to be a challenge on Lake Erie and Huron, but have declined on other Great Lakes. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Researchers hope to rid the Upper Cheboygan River of sea lamprey by introducing sterile males. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

By Howard Meyerson

Federal researchers working to control sea lampreys in the Cheboygan River Watershed are considering a chemical-free approach starting in 2017.

The four-year experiment would involve releasing sterile male lampreys in the Pigeon, Maple and Sturgeon Rivers.

All three are tributaries of the Cheboygan River, which has been found in recent years to have a landlocked lamprey population. Those lampreys, which don’t migrate out to Lake Huron to feed, emerge from river bottoms where they live as larvae, make their way downstream during their metamorphosis to a blood-sucking parasite, and feed on fish in Burt and Mullett lakes before returning upstream to spawn and die.

Two years of netting surveys found an annual total of 200 or fewer adult (spawning) lampreys in all three rivers combined, according to federal officials. A third year of data is being collected this summer. Continue reading

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A beauty of a snake

The Blue Racer is a fast, curious and non-venomous snake found in Michigan. snake  Photo: Howard Meyerson.

The Blue Racer is a fast, curious and non-venomous snake found in Michigan. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

You don’t see these very often in the wilds of Michigan –  Coluber constrictor foxi – otherwise known as the  Blue Racer, but a few of us did today while hiking on the North Country National Scenic Trail.

The encounter was a curious one. Three of us stared intently at it while it stared back at us, coiled in the high grass, flicking its tongue. It’s a beautiful snake, without question, non-venomous, but aggressive when cornered.  We didn’t give an opportunity to prove it could retaliate with a nasty bite.

I’ve often thought about them having experienced one in close proximity as a child camping with other kids at summer camp. That snake slithered into our old canvas pup-tent and scared the hell out of of us.  Seeing it in the wild today brought back fond memories, of scrambling, screaming kids uncertain about whether to run or try to catch it.

A Michigan DNR map showing where they have been seen in Michigan identifies only nine locations, though they were once more common.

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Artist looks to fund Alaskan painting expedition

“Crossing Paths” Dog Salmon and Grizzly, Upper Reed River, Alaska. 15″ x 24″ acrylic studio painting of the fifth Grizzly and the first peaceable one August 17, 2013. Photo: Rob Mullen.

Canoeing and painting are the backbone of Rob Mullen’s life. The West Bolton, Vermont expedition artist and executive director of  the Wilderness River Expedition Art Fellowship, a non-profit he founded to encourage artists to immerse themselves in wild, natural terrain, is looking for a little help funding a return expedition to Alaska in August.

The 350 mile trip planned down the Kobuk River with other artists will be the last leg of a three-year, 900 mile circumnavigation of the western Brooks Range by canoe. Mullen Off the River Ambler AKlaunched a Kickstarter Campaign hoping to secure additional funding for the endeavor. It is his 16th art expedition highlighting Boreal Forests.

Mullen, who began drawing as a child, left a career as a Manhattan ad artist and returned to his native Vermont after a having a change of heart about life in the big city. He decided to pursue a course that allowed him to combine his love of adventure, painting, and conservation.

To learn more about Mullen, who plans to celebrate his 59th birthday in Alaska, see Paint n’ Paddle Studio.

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Federal wildlife & fisheries funding expected

Federal excise taxes on fishing and hunting and other gear pay  for fisheries and wildlife programs in Michigan. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Federal excise taxes on fishing and hunting and other gear pay for fisheries and wildlife programs in Michigan. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Michigan is slated to receive more than $37.5 million in federal funding for fisheries, wildlife and hunter education programs in 2015 – another high-mark year but that could change.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced its intent to distribute $224 million to Midwestern states, a portion of the $1.1 billion being allocated to all 50 states and U.S Territories from its Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration Program. The money comes from excise taxes that hunters and anglers pay when purchasing certain gear, import duties paid on boats, and a portion of the gasoline tax attributed to small boats and engines.

Michigan is to get more than in 2014 when it received $35.2 million. This year, roughly $26.6 million will go to wildlife restoration efforts within the Michigan Department of Natural Resources while just over $11 million goes to fisheries restoration.

“Robust guns and ammo sales over the last number of years resulted in a lot of growth in the wildlife restoration program,” said Jim Hodgson, chief of the Wildlife and Sport Fishing Restoration Program for the Midwest region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Fisheries funds have gone up and down with the economy. Seventy percent of that comes from the marine fuel tax. The big driver is the bigger boats that use a lot of fuel.  It hasn’t had the same growth, and we expect it will be a little lower the next year or two. Continue reading

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Bear country manners called for when camping in bear country

Hoeft State Park:  Camping fees at PH Hoeft State Park, north of Rogers City on Lake Huron, went up only $1 per night.  Photo. Howard Meyerson

Put coolers away at night when camping in bear country. Photo. Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

A few years ago, a friend and I were walking back to a campground, backtracking on a remote Upper Peninsula trail. Overcast skies had threatened rain. We’d spent a moody, chilly day tramping through deep forest.

Then, we stumbled on something that gave us a start. A sign in the middle of the trail proclaimed: You are in bear country.

The scat was fresh and full of berry seeds. It had come from a big bruin. We made nervous jokes and studied the forest around us.

Both of us had bear encounters before, none of which proved to be a problem. We continued down the trail a bit more alert to our surroundings, talked a little bit louder and got back to the campground without incident. That’s usually what happens when people find signs of bears in the woods.

“It happens every year: People see signs or footprints, but it’s not a negative experience,” said Anna Sylvester, the Michigan DNR’s northern Michigan field operations section chief for Parks and Recreation division. “We even have some in busy state parks, like South Higgins Lake or Mitchell State Park, where they may run through the campground. People see more of them as they go further north.” Continue reading

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Upper Peninsula wood boat school gets a gig with U.S. Navy

Students Ben Davant, left, and Mike Podgajski shape the final plank for the pilot gig. Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Boat Building School.

Students Ben Davant, left, and Mike Podgajski shape the final plank for the pilot gig. Photo courtesy of the Great Lakes Boat Building School.

By Howard Meyerson

In the tiny eastern Upper Peninsula town of Cedarville — population, 253 — a small group of students is working on a project for the U.S. Navy. As unlikely as that might sound, it is equally remarkable and true.

They are first-year students at the Great Lakes Boat Building School, a private institution that teaches the essentials of wood boat building to young and older students who want to pursue careers in that field. This is the second time in three years GLBBS students are building something of national significance.

USS CONSTITUTION

This season, they are working on a 32-foot Cornish pilot gig for the USS Constitution, the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy — and oldest commissioned naval vessel afloat in world. The 304-foot, three-masted wooden frigate was launched in 1797. It was named by George Washington himself.

The U.S.S. Constitution is the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy.

The U.S.S. Constitution is the oldest ship in the U.S. Navy.Washington himself.

The gig is expected to be completed soon. It will be transported in June to the 23rd annual Wooden Boat Show in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut. Then, it will be delivered to the Constitution’s captain and crew in Boston.

“I’ve told the students that it will be seen by millions of people over its lifetime,” said Patrick Mahon, the school’s program director. “This project not only gives the school national exposure, but it also exposes our students to the maritime history of the country. A lot of our students don’t have that connection.”
Continue reading

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A fine day for a paddle

           Today was one of those fun days. The weather cleared and I had the honor to hook up with the enthusiastic and skilled members of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association who gathered for a spring outing. They brought out an assortment of wood canoe restorations and newer wooden canoes.  Whoever made the chocolate chip and nut cookies should consider going commercial.

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An official paddler’s greeting.

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The beauty of wood canoes

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WCHA president Ken Kelly gets ready to take one out .

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Dave McDaniel brings one of his early restorations out of storage .

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Nothing like wood.

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Somewhere up north where loons call.

© 2015 Howard Meyerson

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Spring Is Blooming: The Best Places To See Wildflowers In and Around Grand Rapids

Hepaticas like these are among the many spring blooms found at Aman and other Grand Rapids area parks. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Hepaticas like these are among the many spring blooms found at Aman and other Grand Rapids area parks. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Spring is a delightful time to be in the woods, a period when wildflowers bloom brilliantly in Grand Rapids area parks and woods. Hit it right and you may be dazzled by white and lavender hepatica blooming on sunny hillsides, or the brilliance of yellow marsh marigolds along creek banks and wetlands.

“John Ball Park has really amazing wildflowers,” offers Kristin Tindall, a master naturalist at Blandford Nature Center, in Grand Rapids. “I’ve never seen more bloodroot in one place, and there are trout lilies.

“It’s also really hard to beat Aman Park. Virginia bluebells grow there along with trilliums and green dragons, a flower related to the Jack-in-the pulpit.”

Read more via the Experience GR Blog: Spring Is Blooming: The Best Places To See Wildflowers In and Around Grand Rapids.

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Salmon season outlook full of uncertainty

Anglers can anticipate catching salmon again this summer, though the Lake Michigan alewife population remains at an all-time low. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

Anglers can anticipate catching salmon again this summer, though the Lake Michigan alewife population remains at an all-time low. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

The 2015 salmon season is just getting underway and what anglers can expect remains uncertain. Lake Michigan fishing typically picks up in May but just where in the lake depends on water temperature. And so far lake waters have been uniformly very cold.

“It’s tough to pinpoint where the chinooks will be when water temperatures are the same around the lake,” said Jay Wesley, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Lake Michigan basin coordinator. “But, fishing for lake trout, coho salmon, steelhead and brown trout has been decent. And I know of one 17-pound (chinook) that has been caught.”

Charter anglers around St. Joseph have had intermittent luck with chinooks so far. One recently called to share that fishing was sporadic — a 30-fish-day with a boat full of clients might be followed by a three-fish-day. Cold blustery weather made for difficult fishing in April.

Anglers are likely to find this year’s catch about the same as last, according to Wesley. Michigan sport and charter anglers caught 125,000 chinooks in 2014 and in 2013. Both years were down from 2012 when anglers caught 275,000 chinooks.

Of course, there are fewer chinooks in Lake Michigan these days. Fewer are now stocked by all the Lake Michigan states, and a 2015 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report indicates fewer wild (untagged) salmon showed up in the 2014 catch, particularly up north, where they have been plentiful. Continue reading

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