DNR News: Free fishing, NRC meeting, bait laws, inland lake and stream surveys

Share or view as webpage  |  Update preferences

News Digest - Week of Feb. 10, 2020

frozen waves, clouds and pink sunset surround Grand Haven Lighthouse and pier

Sunset near Grand Haven Lighthouse, on Michigan's west side, is gorgeous any time of year.

Here's a look at some of this week's stories from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources:

See other news releases, Showcasing the DNR stories, photos and other resources at Michigan.gov/DNRPressRoom.

PHOTO FOLDER: Larger, higher-res versions of the images used below, and others, are available in this folder.

Reminder: No license or permit purchases this weekend

New DNR license sales system webpage screen shot

In just a few days, the DNR will begin the changeover to a new system for selling hunting and fishing licenses, hunting applications, and ORV and snowmobile permits online and at retail agent locations statewide. The changeover starts Saturday, Feb. 15, and the new system will go live at noon Tuesday, Feb. 18.

During the changeover, all licenses, permits and applications will be unavailable for sale – both online and in retail stores. If you’ve been planning to pick up a license or permit for the coming weekend, don’t wait. Please plan ahead, or plan to wait until after noon Feb. 18. (However, select dealers across the state will be selling preprinted ORV licenses and ORV and snowmobile trail permits while the system is down.)

If you would like to learn more, we recently shared a news release with details about the transition to the new license sales system. We appreciate your patience as we work to improve our customers’ experience. Thank you!

#MiFreeFishingWeekend is back, Feb. 15-16

DNR Winter Free Fishing graphic, a brown sign with snow on the top and snowflakes around the words

Everyone’s invited to join in the DNR’s annual Winter Free Fishing Weekend, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 15 and 16. No fishing license is needed, although all other fishing regulations still apply.

The weekend coincides with the DNR’s move to a new license sales system. Due to the changeover, which will run Saturday, Feb. 15, through noon, Tuesday, Feb. 18, no hunting or fishing licenses can be purchased online or in stores during that time.

Over the last few years, the DNR has made it even easier to fish on Free Fishing weekends by waiving the need for the Recreation Passport, normally required for vehicle entry at state parks, more than 1,300 DNR-managed boating access sites and other state-managed outdoor recreation destinations. Because of the license sales system changeover and the desire to make things simpler for customers, the department is waiving the need for a Recreation Passport or a fishing license on Monday, Feb. 17, too – two more reasons to get outdoors during the holiday weekend!

#MiFreeFishingWeekend is an annual effort to promote Michigan’s world-class fishing. While many will bundle up and head out on their own, there are several organized events happening throughout the state, including:

Check Michigan.gov/FreeFishing for more events around the state, as well as other details about the weekend. Remember, all events are subject to weather conditions.

Questions? Contact Suzanne Stone at 517-284-6162.

Natural Resources Commission meets Thursday in Lansing

a view of rental cottages at Lime Island Recreation Area

General management plans for Lime Island State Recreation Area and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, an update on the DNR's new license sales system, a discussion on furbearer regulations and two land transactions are just some of the agenda items for the next meeting of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission Thursday, Feb. 13, in Lansing. The meeting will take place in the Michigan Room of the Gannon Building at Lansing Community College, 422 North Washington Square.

Scheduled committee meetings include:

  • 9:30 a.m., State Parks Advisory Committee.
  • 11 a.m., Policy Committee on Wildlife and Fisheries.
  • Noon, break for lunch.
  • 1 p.m., Committee of the Whole.

See the meeting's full draft agenda at Michigan.gov/NRC. For more information or to request time to speak at the meeting, email NRC@Michigan.gov.

Keep Michigan's waters great – don't dump your bait

close-up view of a bait fish at the top of a bucket, with more fish swimming beneath it in the bottom.

With the coming Winter Free Fishing Weekend (Feb. 15-16) expected to lure more people onto the water, it’s a good time to remind anglers about the legal ways to handle bait that protect our world-class fisheries. Last March, new boating and fishing laws regarding the release of baitfish, the collection and use of baitfish and cut bait, and the release of captured fish took effect.

Simply put, the law says that unused baitfish, whether purchased or collected, must be disposed of on land or in the trash – never in the water. If anglers collect baitfish from the waters where they’re fishing, it can be used only in those same waters.

Similarly, Seth Herbst, the DNR’s aquatic species and regulatory affairs manager, said that anyone catching and releasing fish is required to release those fish back into the same waters where they were caught.

“The department wants to be clear that, even with the new law, people are still allowed to catch and release fish during the appropriate seasons – they’re just encouraged to use extra care to ensure no invasive species or pathogens are spread,” Herbst said.

Moving fish from one body of water to another increases the risk of spreading invasive species and fish health concerns, like heterosporis (a parasite of yellow perch) and viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (a serious disease that can harm many fish species). These can easily spread to new locations when water is carelessly transferred via a boat’s undrained bilge, live well or ballast tank, and when unused bait is disposed of improperly.

No matter when or where you fish, always remember to dispose of unused bait in the trash and return catch-and-release fish to the waters where they were caught. These simple steps can make a huge difference in the health of Michigan’s rivers, lakes and streams and the fish that live in them.

For more information, visit the Laws section of the Michigan.gov/Invasives website or contact Seth Herbst at 517-284-5841.

230+ inland fisheries surveys in 2019 yield key data, insights

DNR staff on a boat, measuring a pike as part of a lake survey

Did walleye stocking on an inland lake help grow its yellow perch population? Do changing water levels alter fish movement? Are more salmon returning to home waters? Finding answers to questions like these is a big part of why the DNR does fisheries surveys – and, in fact, conducted more than 230 such surveys last year alone!

In 2019, staff from eight DNR fisheries management units completed 132 surveys of inland lakes and 101 stream surveys. Anyone fishing those waters might have seen crews collecting key data on state fisheries. So just what are crews looking for?

According to Randy Claramunt, Lake Huron Basin coordinator, surveys fall into three categories:

  • Evaluating management actions.
  • Understanding status and trends.
  • Finding answers to new questions or concerns.

“Each management unit is responsible for determining if actions, like fish stocking or habitat improvement projects, had the desired effect,” Claramunt said. “For example, last year the DNR stocked more than 21 million fish across Michigan. Surveys help us evaluate whether stocking resulted in better recreational fishing in certain areas or improved a lake’s overall health.”

Other annual surveys help managers track the status and trends of fish communities and important aquatic habitat on different lakes, providing a picture of these lakes geographically and over time.

DNR crew in the water, conducting a stream survey with electrofishing gear, bright blue sky with clouds in background

Claramunt said streams throughout the state are handled a little differently, through two types of status and trends surveys: fixed sites and random sites.

“At fixed sites, we annually estimate fish population abundance – usually trout in coldwater streams and smallmouth bass in warmer waters – on a three-year rotation, while random site surveys are intended to give a species snapshot and show relative abundance,” he said. “We collect in-stream habitat data at all our status and trends sites.”

Fisheries managers use that third category, discretionary surveys, to answer questions or address current concerns, perhaps something raised by a local biologist, an angling group or a lake association. Such surveys might be conducted to assess habitat suitability for a threatened and endangered fish species.

No matter the type of survey, DNR fisheries managers use the resulting information to strategize their actions, detect early indicators of invasive species, recognize developing threats to fish and habitat health, and much more. If you’d like to learn about the DNR’s lake and stream surveys, especially in your part of the state, contact the fisheries management unit in your area.

Questions? Contact Randy Claramunt at 231-622-3820.


Crisp air, clear skies, fresh snow – if this is your time of year and you're looking for ideas on what to enjoy next, check out our Winter Fun webpage and get out there!


Check "YES" for the Recreation Passport when renewing your vehicle registration through Secretary of State. It costs just $12 per vehicle starting March 1.


Help the next generation enjoy the outdoors safely and responsibly. Become a volunteer safety instructor and share your knowledge of boating, hunting, off-roading and more.

Was this email useful?

thumbs upthumbs down