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Can someone ice fish on my bottomlands?

Written by Lawrence Opalewski on December 15, 2021 Category: Easements and Riparian Rights, Michigan Land Use and Zoning, Water Access

As the Michigan weather turns colder and winter settles in, many inland lakes will be freezing over. This means that activities on the lakes will be changing also. Swimming and boating will be over for the season, and winter activities such as ice fishing and snowmobiling can begin. But can those anglers really place their ice shanties in front of your lake house?

The answer, in most cases, is yes. Ice fishing is an activity that riparian owners typically cannot prevent. To be clear, this is ice fishing on a natural, navigable lake, not a man-made lake. The same riparian rules apply to winter activities as to summer activities. That is, once members of the public gain access to the water, they have the right to perform activities such as fishing, floating, swimming, etc.

Members of the public also have the right to moor on riparian bottomlands temporarily if the mooring is “incidental to navigation.” This has typically included the right to anchor and fish. Ice fishing is unique in that anglers are typically stationed for several hours at a time but are not actually moored to the bottomlands. Of course, there are other rules and regulations related to ice shanties which anglers must follow. But on the whole, ice fishing is an activity protected by many years of riparian rights case law in the state of Michigan.

The same can be said of snowmobiling. The popular winter activity can be an annoyance for some, and downright alarming for others if not done safely. But Michigan law is clear that snowmobiling is permitted on frozen riparian lakes. Again, there are certain rules and regulations regarding the manner of snowmobiling on lakes, but the activity itself is protected by law.

The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich, PLC have extensive experience in all aspects of Michigan land use and property law, including riparian rights. If you believe your rights are being violated, please do not hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to speak with you.

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