The Black Friday of fishing in Michigan is only a few days away. From February 17th through the 18th, anglers from in and out of state can fill their coolers with fish without having to buy a fishing license. Ordinarily, a fishing license in Michigan costs from $26-76, depending on residency status.
Every state offers free fishing in the summer, except Alaska, but Michigan is one of only 14 states that offer free fishing for multiple seasons. The ice and snow may prompt some to wait until June 9th and 10th, but the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has a list of events and contests across the state, providing incentive for prospective ice fishers.
Roscommon County hosts northern Michigan’s largest fishing contest, a year-long chance to win a $100,000 cash prize or a Lund boat package for catching tagged fish. Over 200 tagged fish were released in Lake St. Helen, Houghton Lake and Higgins Lake last March. When a tagged fish is caught, the angler automatically receives a $50 gas card and is entered into a drawing for the grand prize. However, according to administrative assistant for the Houghton Lake Area Tourism Bureau, Adele Woskobojnik; catching a fish during free fishing weekend earns two $50 gas cards.
Another event in the same county during free fishing weekend will be WinterFest, managed by the Higgins Lake Roscommon Chamber of Commerce. Between the evening of February 16th and February 17th, a variety of family activities will be held, including a fishing derby on Higgins Lake.
“Even if you just bring in a fish, you get entered in for a prize,” said outgoing director of HRCC, Cathy Boyle. Additional prizes are awarded depending on length and weight of fish during the derby. “It’s…great fun for the kids if they’re trying it out for the first time to have caught…their own.”
Winterfest has been a tradition almost annually for 25 years and has more than 11 activities to accommodate out-of-town visitors and locals. For the past two years, Boyle has been in charge of the event, “It’s just a fun time to get out and get off the couch and enjoy what Michigan has to offer for the winter.” Attendees can expect a chili cookoff, a broomball competition, a horse-drawn carriage ride, auctions and several others.
“One of my favorite things is…the cardboard sled race,” revealed Boyle, “You see a little bit of everything.” Prior to the competition, a volunteer-run workshop provides instruction for cardboard sled construction.
The Winterfest entrance ticket is a $5 button and the majority of Winterfest activities are included in the cost. “You can’t beat the value,” said Boyle, “It’s not one of those events where you have…a five-dollar button and then when you get there you’re spending a hundred.” Last year about 700 buttons were purchased, but the attendance was close to 1000 including children under five.
Weather concerns for the event are that it will be too cold to attract participants or too warm for the snowman building contests, ice fishing and sledding events.
In case of extreme cold, the event is equipped with space heaters, a kids’ tent and the chili cookoff will be hosted inside the Macmullan Center. “People usually come pretty well prepared, they’re used to the Michigan winters so they’re ready to be outside.”
According to Woskobojnik, too little snowfall could be a concern for the event. However, Boyle countered, “Last year…we had a little warm up…I would expect we’re gonna’ have plenty more snow between now and then.”
Boyle estimated about 80 community volunteers make Winterfest successful. “Everybody kinda’ comes together and we get it all done.”
Photos Provided by Cathy Boyle and the Higgins Lake Roscommon Chamber of Commerce.
For More Information
Take Me Fishing
Visit Houghton Lake
Michigan DNR Official Free Fishing Event List