Michigan DNR offers winter fishing safety tips for angling rivers and streams

By on February 24, 2015
A partially frozen creek in the winter. (Credit: Mathias Erhart, via Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

When it comes to talking about winter fishing safety, ice fishing takes most of the flack. After all, it’s not hard to see the risk in walking atop a thin layer of frozen lake. But winter conditions can make any type of fishing riskier, sometimes by virtue of cold alone.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources warned anglers last month about the dangers of river and stream fishing during the winter. In a press release, the DNR urges caution especially when fishing near ice dams, frozen formations in the waterway that can divert flow.

Rivers and streams are often the last bastion for wintertime anglers looking to avoid a trip onto the ice. You don’t need to understand fluid dynamics to know that moving waterways usually freeze after standing water in the winter. This is great for anglers of all stripes, though particularly fly-tyers, as it offers a continued opportunity to target species such as salmon and trout after local lakes have frozen over.

Fishing a river or stream in the winter shouldn’t be viewed as a direct analogue to warm weather fishing, however. For one, it’s going to be cold — sometimes really cold. It’s easy enough to shrug off near-zero temperatures when you’re walking from the car to your front door, but angling is rarely a brief experience. Hypothermia, frostnip and frostbite can occur after prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures, so make sure you go equipped with proper attire. Emergency supplies such as space blankets, first aid kits and plenty of water are also recommended to keep on hand.

Ice dams forming on the Craigie Burn in Scotland. (Credit: Murray Barnes, via Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Ice dams forming on the Craigie Burn in Scotland. (Credit: Murray Barnes, via Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

While the effects of cold on the body can be averted through preparation, it’s harder to prepare for changes in a waterway’s flow behavior. Ice dams form in very cold weather, usually below 10 degrees Fahrenheit and in areas where day and night temperatures fluctuate, according to Michigan DNR biologist Kyle Kruger. The dams are rarely stable; if temperatures rise above freezing, they can break and cause sudden changes in flow, sometimes releasing a large volume of water. This can make fishing difficult, but can also be dangerous for anglers in the path of a sudden flow release.

If you’re planning a day of winter fishing at a nearby stream or river, check with the U.S. Geological Survey for flow information, and keep an eye on the weather forecast. A little preparation can go a long way to ensure a great fishing trip, even in frigid conditions.

Top image: A partially frozen creek in the winter. (Credit: Mathias Erhart, via Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

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