Mild winter makes for lackluster ice fishing season.

February 22, 2020

Ice fisherman on Pere Marquette Lake in Ludington.

Mild winter makes for lackluster ice fishing season.

Watson Country Outdoor Report.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

The Watson Country Outdoor Report is a presentation of the Watson Auto Group, selling Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Fiat in Ludington, Manistee, Benzie and Rockford. “Every season there’s a reason to visit Watson Country. For more information, visit

HESPERIA — Mild weather this season has taken its toll on an extremely popular winter time activity in the area — ice fishing.

Little to no ice on many local lakes has anglers sidelined.

“It’s been awful,” said Jim Lavin, who owns Hesperia Sports Shop. “The whole month of January was a complete loss. That’s usually the most popular month for ice fishing right after Christmas and New Year’s.

“It’s hard to recover from that,” Lavin said. “It’s a giant loss of activity.”

The sport shop owner said he has not seen such a dismal ice fishing season since the late 1990s when mild conditions kept the lakes from freezing. “We really didn’t get any ice.”

Many of his customers ice fish on Hart Lake, Fremont Lake, Pentwater Lake and Silver Lake, which have had little to no activity due to the lack of safe ice. Anglers are normally hauling in pike, perch, steelhead, suckers, blue gill and walleye this time of year. But this season, the fish seem to be winning the battle.

“I’ve got a lot of equipment to sell, but I will have to carry it over until next year,” Lavin said. “This really puts people in financial difficulty. It’s a big financial hit on the whole state.”

Not only is it bad for the sport shops, but the lack of ice means there are fewer anglers patronizing other local businesses, such as gas stations, restaurants and bars, he said.

The lack of snow is also bad for the snowmobiling industry. “Most of the snowmobilers have to go up to the UP for any decent snow,” he said.

“This really puts people in limbo — it’s a big hit.”

“The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reminds anglers that changing ice conditions could require removal of fishing shanties before required removal dates,” according to a DNR press release. “This is a possibility every year, as all shanties must be removed once ice can no longer safely support them.

“People venturing onto the ice should use extreme caution as temperatures begin to rise or fluctuate. The repeated thawing and refreezing of ice weakens its integrity, decreasing its ability to support additional weight of people, snowmobiles, ORVs and shanties. Deteriorating ice, water currents and high winds increase the probability of pressure cracks, which can leave anglers and others stranded on ice floes or at risk of falling through the ice.

“Regardless of the required date, ice shanties must be removed before the ice becomes too weak to support them,” said F/Lt. Jason Wicklund, DNR Law Enforcement Division. “It’s the angler’s responsibility to safely remove their shanty before it falls through the ice.

“Shanty owners whose structures fall through the ice are subject to penalties of up to 30 days in jail, fines of $100 to $500, or both. If a shanty is removed by a government agency, the court can require the owner to reimburse that agency for an amount of up to three times the cost of removal.”

If ice conditions don’t warrant early removal, the final date for shanty removal in most of the northern Lower Peninsula — which includes Oceana, Mason and Manistee counties — is at midnight Sunday, March 15.

“Daily use of ice shanties is permitted anywhere in Michigan as long as ice conditions permit and if the shanties are removed from the ice at the end of each day.

“No ice is ever considered safe,” Wicklund reminded. “Anyone venturing onto the ice should always wear a personal flotation device.”

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