LANSING — In a few years, Michigan anglers might have the polar vortex to thank for good hauls.
But in a few months, they might have it to blame for particularly disappointing catches.
Fish experts are keeping a close eye on how winter conditions progress, a clue to how fish populations in the Great Lakes and Michigan’s inland lakes will fare.
The recent cold and resulting ice might give some fish eggs a better chance of survival, Michael Hoff, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fish biologist, said. But other fish could die in droves because of a lack of oxygen mixed with other stressors.
For now, the ice is good for fishing.
Thicker ice has drawn more buyers of tickets for the Michigan Anglers Association’s ice fishing derby in February and more fishers to Muskegon Lake, a primary fishing spot for the association, said Neal Thorstenson, the group’s president.
“Muskegon Lake is just covered with ice fisherman — it’s like a bunch of cities out there,” Thorstenson said. “They’re getting good catches, plenty of fish and some have been catching good-sized fish.”
Some ice anglers were disappointed they couldn’t get out on the lakes sooner when the cold weather hit because of safety issues, said Michigan United Conservation Clubs Resource Policy Manager Amy Trotter.
Anglers might be bunched into city-like arrangements on the ice where fish are abundant because the ice restricts the fish’s environment, leaving them in closer quarters, said Cheryl Murphy, Michigan State University assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.
Murphy said the cold temperatures also mean all processes in a fish’s system slow down so
they move less and eat less, although they might bite at food dangling directly in front of them.
The longer-term impacts of all that ice on fish are mixed.