Fisheries forum

DNR’s ‘Conversations & Coffee’ focuses on stocking, regulations

Fishing stocking is an annual Michigan Department of Natural Resources activity. Here, rainbow trout are being stocked near L’Anse. (Photo courtesy of the DNR)

ISHPEMING — Fishing tournaments, walleye stocking and regulations for muskellunge and brook trout were some of the topics discussed at Wednesday’s “Conversations & Coffee” sponsored by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at Ishpeming Township Hall.

Discussing fisheries issues with the public were George Madison, fisheries biologist for the western Upper Peninsula; Cory Kovacs, fisheries biologist for the eastern Upper Peninsula; and Phil Schneeberger, Lake Superior Basin coordinator.

Madison said the DNR has developed a Fishing Tournament Information System targeting bass.

“Bass fishing is very popular in the southern part of Michigan,” said Madison, who noted over 2,000 tournaments were registered in 2016. It’s less popular in the U.P., although a few tourneys are held in Marquette County, he said.

Online registration and reporting now are required, but he stressed the system is not for making reservations. Instead, tournament directors can register and report the day anglers will be out on a lake.

“It helps us collect information about these events,” Madison said.

That information includes how many anglers participated, the number of boats involved, bag limits and total weight for both largemouth and smallmouth bass, among other data.

The reports, he said, will give the DNR more knowledge of bass populations and tournament dynamics. The DNR then can track if fish sizes are changing, among other trends.

“It helps us understand the impacts, if there are any, of these bass tournaments,” Madison said.

The DNR also wants to create an annual program report so everyone can understand what’s happening with the tournament, highlight statistics and promote bass fishing in Michigan, such as giving the public an idea of the best lakes for catching large fish or allow anglers to simply experience solitude, he said.

The public also will be able to look on the FTIS on the DNR website to find out where tournaments are taking place.

Madison said the FTIS will be updated online this year, with the system expanded in 2018 to include all fish species.

He also addressed muskellunge fishing, which he said has a dedicated following.

“It’s a growing sport,” Madison said. “We’re seeing more and more interest in it.”

The DNR approved and published a Muskellunge Management Plan in 2016, which is available online. The plan, he said, gives the agency a framework with which to manage muskie populations with the goal of providing a variety of fishing opportunities.

Kovacs said a DNR committee developed a growth model using the most current data, with another committee providing feedback.

Madison said the current muskie regulation is one fish per season with a harvest tag, with 42 inches the statewide blanket regulation for the minimum size limit, with a few exceptions. The western U.P. has a minimum size limit of 42 inches.

Regulation options considered were:

– catch-and-immediate release;

– a statewide season opener;

– minimum size limits;

– and bag limit.

Kovacs said the season opener in the U.P. currently is May 15, noting that in most cases, the opener was to protect spawning populations.

“As we’ve learned more about the species, we find that they’re actually spawning into late May, early June,” Kovacs said. “In fact, our current season opener is likely not protecting those naturalized, spawning populations.”

Madison said: “When these muskies are spawning in the shallows, it’s like a water buffalo rolling around in there. They’re visible, they’re making a lot of noise and can be targeted very easily.”

Madison said that in the U.P., most muskie lakes are in Gogebic County. Teal Lake in Negaunee has been stocked twice with spotted muskellunge, with other lakes stocked with northern muskellunge.

Proposed changes for the U.P. in the plan, he said, include a minimum size limit of 38 inches for Lake Emily and Round Lake, both located in the western U.P. There are no proposed changes for Craig Lake and Lake Michigamme, with size limits staying at 42 inches.

Another topic of discussion was brook trout. Madison said that in December, a fish and wildlife subcommittee of the Natural Resources Commission passed a resolution to change all U.P. Type-1 streams — smaller, coldwater streams — to a 10-fish bag limit with a limited number of exceptions that would have a five-fish bag limit.

Streams nominated by various groups for exclusion of the 10-fish limit include Bryan Creek, coaster research streams, the Yellow Dog River and the West Branch of the Escanaba River.

An experimental study on what would happen with streams with a 10-fish bag limit is ongoing, he said.

Schneeberger has been coordinating a review of the process, which is driven by the NRC.

He acknowledged there are biological and social factors that contribute to a stream’s proposed bag limit.

“The results lean toward five fish, but there is a sizable group of people that would like 10 fish,” Schneeberger said. “It’s going to turn out to be a mix, even though for a lot of people the preference would be just one regulation across the U.P. so it’s not confusing.”

The final determination is set for July.

Another regulation proposal that will go to the NRC this summer, Madison said, deals with combining coregonids, which include lake whitefish, cisco and round whitefish. Current regulations for lake whitefish and cisco involve no minimum size limit but a daily possession limit of 12 in any combination, and they can be fished all year.

For round whitefish, there’s no size or quantity limit.

What’s problematic, he said, is that some anglers cannot tell the difference between a lake whitefish and a round whitefish, although other anglers can correctly identify the fish.

Kovacs said a lot of round whitefish are caught at Grand Marais.

“The mouth of the Two-Hearted River is very popular,” Kovacs said. “It’s becoming even more popular in recent years. I think they’ve caught them in the past. So, now you potentially limit round whitefish to what biological purpose in the Two-Hearted River when there’s thousands of them there.”

Schneeberger brought up the conservation and ethical aspects.

“Twelve fish should be enough, and people who go beyond that are likely wasting the fish anyway,” Schneeberger said.

Madison talked about which “no meeting would be complete.” with that topic being walleye stocking.

In 2016, Hoist Basin in Marquette County was stocked with 10,000 walleye, with Lake Independence stocked with 10,000 of that species.

Goose Lake received 26,000 fish, with Fish Lake receiving 5,100 and Mehl Lake stocked with 2,730 fish.

“This used to be one of the best walleye/panfish lakes in Marquette County,” Madison said about Goose Lake.

That’s not the case anymore, and the cause is uncertain, he said.

“The fishery has plummeted,” Madison said. “We’ve been stocking in there, (on an) every-other-year basis, and they’re just not taking.”

Possible causes include selenium runoff from mine rock piles, which would be a reproductive inhibitor; climate change; or vestiges of sewage before water-septic systems were in place. He noted a collection system is installed around the waste rock piles to capture water before it enters lakes.

Teal Lake is expected to receive 1 million walleye fry this year.

For more information on fisheries programs, visit www.michigan.gov/dnr.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.