Late one night, while running low on fuel during a recruiting trip in Michigan, legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes famously forbid one of his assistants from buying gas in the Wolverine State, insisting that he would rather run empty and push the car back to Ohio than spend one nickel in the homeland of his hated rival.
Toledo native David Albrecht is about as strident as Woody in his disdain for Michigan, now that the cost of 2014 nonresident fishing license is more than twice as much as Albrecht paid last year for the privilege of fishing the waters of Ohio’s neighbor to the north.
“I’ve had Michigan fishing licenses and fished in Michigan for the past 35 years, but I won’t buy another one,” Albrecht said. “I will not drive into Michigan or spend another dollar in Michigan.”
ON THE HOOK: Comparative costs of annual fishing licenses
The new Michigan licenses are needed by Tuesday. A basic nonresident fishing license cost Albrecht $34 last year, but a change in the structure of Michigan’s fishing license system, plus the price hike, boosts that to $76 for this fishing season.
In previous years, Michigan offered a basic license, with an additional fee to fish for trout or salmon. Albrecht did most of his north-of-the-border fishing in the Irish Hills area where the lakes are known for largemouth bass and panfish, so he did not need a trout-and-salmon stamp.
This year, Michigan sells only an “all-species” license as part of a simplification of its licensing system, which offered 227 different hunting and fishing license options last year, but reduced that to 42 this year.
“No matter how they try and justify it, I just can’t see that kind of price increase,” the 66-year-old Albrecht said. “I’m a retiree on a fixed income, and to me this just looks like another money grab.”
Michigan now has the priciest nonresident license of any of the states that border Ohio. Indiana, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia all still offer a basic license, with an additional fee for the permit or stamp that allows the angler to pursue trout, and in some cases salmon.
“When I was younger, I went further up north to fish and paid for a Michigan trout stamp and didn’t mind it at all,” Albrecht said. “I think the border states should work together, not pull something like this that will discourage a lot of Ohio fishermen from going back to Michigan.”
Ed Golder, the public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said that prior to the restructuring of the license format and fees, what Michigan charged out-of-state anglers to fish for all species was lower than any state but Ohio. A nonresident license to fish in Ohio waters costs $40.
“In many respects, this new license restructuring helped us to catch up to where we should be,” Golder said.
Golder also pointed out that until this year, Michigan had not changed its fishing license prices in 17 years and that inflationary pressures and the increased cost of doing business figured into the rationale for the changes.
The cost of an annual fishing license for Michigan residents dropped from $28 to $25 after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill last September that radically changed the state’s hunting and fishing license structure. Basic hunting licenses now cost $11 for Michigan residents and $151 for nonresidents, with both options calling for additional fees for hunting species such as deer or bear.
Golder emphasized that when the fishing license costs from state to state are compared, it is never a clear apples-to-apples situation because of sometimes vastly different fishing options and license structures that are unique to each state’s waters and available species.
Michigan has 153 species of either native or naturalized fish, Golder said, plus shoreline on four Great Lakes, 11,000 inland lakes, and 36,000 miles of rivers and streams, with more than half of those being trout waters.
“Michigan’s fishing opportunities are exceptional, and I would argue second-to-none,” Golder said. “Michigan manages the largest portfolio of freshwater fisheries in the world. That takes resources.”
Still, the spike in the nonresident fishing license fee was too much for some in the Buckeye State to accept. Ehrhardt Gunther of Swanton, a Vietnam vet, said his group of four avid bass fishermen won’t venture into Michigan any longer.
Mick Roberts of Toledo was equally peeved about the jump in the nonresident fishing license fee. He said he has already witnessed sportsmen-related businesses in Michigan failing because of decreased numbers of out-of-state anglers and hunters.
Roberts said he has been hunting and fishing in Michigan all of his life, but recently gave up bow hunting in the Upper Peninsula because the cost was getting to be too much.
“Now it looks like I may have to give up fishing in Michigan, since both my wife and I are retired and now it will cost me $150 for the two of us to fish,” he said. “It seems to me that the Michigan DNR is driving the sportsmen out of Michigan, not trying to boost tourism with sportsmen.”
Toledo pro angler Ross Robertson — who buys Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario fishing licenses every year and purchases licenses in Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New York, Wisconsin, and North Dakota when tournament fishing takes him to those places — said he thinks most sportsmen would pay a little additional money for a license, if they were certain the funds were going to be invested in maintaining or enhancing the fishing.
“My concern is over what the additional money is going to go to, and that’s the common problem with anything involving the government — finding out where the money goes,” Robertson said. “Are we stocking more fish? Are we improving fishing with this additional money? Most of the time, I think sportsmen will put that extra $20 or so in the till if they know it is going to a fishing-related cause.”
Michigan expects the altered fee system to bring in close to $18 million in new revenue. Golder of the Michigan DNR said that these funds will be used to improve habitat for fish and wildlife, hiring more conservation officers, and educating the public about Michigan’s outdoors.
“The additional license revenue will go directly toward managing the resource for the benefit of anglers,” Golder said.
ON THE HOOK
A look at the comparative costs of an annual fishing license for residents and nonresidents in Ohio, the neighboring states, and the province of Ontario.
Trout/salmon stamp* 11
Trout permit* 10
Trout/salmon permit* 9.70
Lake Erie permit** 9.70
Combination trout/salmon & Lake Erie permit 15.70
Trout stamp: resident* 10
Trout stamp: nonresident* 16
Outdoors ID card*** 9.68
*fishing license plus stamp/permit needed to fish for these species
**needed to fish the Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie, Presque Isle Bay and their tributaries
***required, in conjunction with an Ontario fishing license
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.