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Get up-close look at marine life with dip into local lake                     June 28, 2010




You don't have to go far to use your snorkeling gear. / Photo courtesy of

Nancy Washburne snorkeled 500 Michigan lakes to write "Snorkeling Guide to Michigan Inland Lakes," an excellent where-and-how-to book available at her Web site, The book can also be ordered through and some bookstores.


When they think of snorkeling, most people picture trips to tropical reefs adorned with colorful fish. They don't think of snorkeling in Michigan, which has lots of clear lakes that hold some interesting wildlife.


It's a fun thing to do with children, because most lakes have sunfish, bass and pike that allow snorkelers to get close, and there are also crayfish, turtles and mudpuppies that hide under things on the bottom.


Visibility in Michigan lakes varies from near zero to 70 or 80 feet, often depending on the season (summer algae blooms can make even clear lakes hazy). But most will allow you to see 10-20 feet.


I like to snorkel smaller lakes and ponds where there is no powerboat traffic. Where there are boats, I tow a diver-down flag, a red field with a diagonal white stripe on it. I also like lakes that have lots of docks, rocks, downed timber and other debris on the bottom, because they draw and concentrate fish.


Some of my favorite places are rock piles in Grand Traverse Bay, Clear Lake State Park in Montmorency County (which lives up to its name) and parts of the Huron River where visibility is often 30 feet or more.


You'll find most of the marine life concentrated in the top 10 feet or so of water. Dive below that depth and you'll usually hit a thermocline, the point where the warm surface water sits on an icy layer underneath. The difference in temperature often is so dramatic that you can feel it by sticking your hand through the barrier linking the warm and cold water.


Sit-on-top kayaks make great snorkeling platforms, because you can climb back onto them easily in deep water. Use the kayak to paddle to good diving areas, then anchor while you snorkel near it. If you don't have a conventional anchor, a bag filled with stones works pretty well if it's not too windy.


The basic gear includes a mask, fins and snorkel. A wet suit is needed only if you dive beneath the thermocline, but there's little reason for most people to do so.


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Review from the back cover of the book.

Eric Sharp, Free Press Outdoors Writer


Inland Lakes Hold Wonders for Snorkelers

The other day Craig Porter, a friend from Dearborn, brought son Devin, 10, and daughter Reka, 7, to our place in Grayling for a long weekend. The children brought masks, fins and snorkels, and we spent a few hours swimming over the flats and weed beds of Lake Margrethe.

We saw crayfish, clams, snails, bluegills, perch, walleyes and bass. We found a rod and reel that a fisherman had lost, a snorkel, and bits of an old military tank that someone had dropped into the lake to use as a boat mooring.


It was a great introduction for the kids to a marvelous underwater world that’s available to all Michiganders. And by coincidence, anyone interested in such exploring can buy a wonderfully useful book, “Snorkeling Guide to Michigan Inland Lakes” (Nanmar International Inc. $18.95) in which writer Nancy Washburne offers pocket summaries of 480 lakes scattered around both peninsulas.


When we think of underwater activity, we tend to think of Jacques Cousteau-ish oceanic adventures or scuba diving in the Great Lakes. But, as Washburne says, “I’m interested in seeing fish and other underwater creatures, not wrecks, and in Michigan there’s a lot more to see in the inland lakes.”


There’s also plenty of opportunity. Most of the lakes she writes about have state and municipal accesses that let snorkelers get to excellent sites without a boat, and the water is often amazingly clear.


I’ve been diving for 45 years, and when not using scuba gear I still do free dives while holding my breath to poke around the bottom. That’s a necessity on ocean reefs, but in most inland lakes, once you pass the 20-foot mark there’s little to see and icy water at the bottom makes for chilly diving even in a wet suit.


That’s why Washburne’s book is written for people who will spend their time just lying on the surface, breathing through the snorkel while they look through the mask. In many lakes she explored, underwater visibility is 20 feet or more, and 90 percent of the critters live in the weeds, downed logs and other shallow areas where sunlight penetrates.


“We see all kinds of fish, turtles and crayfish,” says Washburne, who uses a video camera in an underwater housing to record the experience. “The other week we were in a lake where my husband, Martin, had some carp 2- 3 feet long swim right up to his mask. They didn’t seem the least concerned.”


That’s something I also like about inland lakes. Even spooky fish like carp and trout, which flee if a wading angler gets within 20 feet, let snorkelers swim within inches.


This book will also be helpful to fishermen, because it details not only the kinds of fish in each lake but where Washburne found them.

“Snorkeling Guide to Michigan Inland Lakes” is available at many bookstores. You can mail-order it from Nanmar International, 320 Whitehills Drive, East Lansing 48823, or fax 1-517-336-6751 anytime.




Dennis Knickerbocker
April 1998


This is an unusual book and unusually useful for anyone wishing to get started in snorkeling or just learn more about Michigan’s many lakes.

“This is a pioneer survey, really”, said author Nancy W. Washburne, founder of a Lansing travel agency and a world-traveling snorkeler for the past 20 years. “To my knowledge, no similar work has been done on inland lakes anywhere in the nation.”


Snorkeling Guide provides short descriptions and assessments of 480 Michigan lakes of all sizes, from overlooked gems in the western Upper Peninsula to multiple-use waters in Oakland County. She tells how to get there, how to access the lake, what you’re apt to see, and the best times for undisturbed snorkeling--or fishing.


I’m finding that a lot of fishermen are interested in the book,” the author said.


Michigan inland waters rival the Great Barrier Reef and other parts of oceans for diversity of life, said Washburne, whose snorkeling exploits range from the New Hebrides and Grand Cayman to Isla Mujeres and Key Largo. In place of coral, our lakes contain what she describes as a garden of vegetation.”


“It’s always a different experience because you never know what you’ll see,” Washburne said. “I think the big turtles were what surprised me. In one lake near Grand Blanc, we ran into three that looked like 25 or 30 pounders.


She dedicated Snorkeling Guide to her husband, Martin Ruiz. He introduced her to the sport, joined her in exploring Michigan lakes last summer, and designed the book. Included are eight full-color underwater photos of common fish, plus sections on getting into snorkeling, do’s and don’ts, photography, equipment, and fish and aquatic plant identification.


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