MARQUETTE - While an Alger County man was arraigned Monday for alleged trespassing on Huron Mountain Club property to take trout out of season, Marquette County Prosecutor Matthew Wiese dismissed two additional club trespass complaints against local men, which also involved fishing along the Salmon Trout River last year.
Trespass at the private club in Powell Township, near Big Bay, has been a decades-old issue, but has again become an important topic recently as Negaunee resident Donn Collins and others alleged being harassed by sheriff's deputies - and other law enforcement officers moonlighting as club security guards - while they sought to fish legally in the river.
Last week, Weise said established case law allows recreational access to the Salmon Trout River via a right-of-way at a bridge near the club gate along Marquette County Road KK. The club plans to appeal a recent Marquette County Circuit Court decision, which could overturn that status. Harassing anglers legally fishing is against state law.
A no trespassing sign posted on Huron Mountain Club property near the Salmon Trout River. (Huron Mountain Club photo)
A police booking photo of John Hongisto.
Collins said the incidents with the guards occurred before the end of last fall's specially-regulated brook trout season on the river, which concludes Aug. 15. The trout season on most streams ends Sept. 30.
The special rules for the Salmon Trout River, which include an 18-inch minimum size limit, are designed to help conserve a breeding population of coaster brook trout, the last remaining along the south shore of Lake Superior.
Collins told the Marquette County Board last week he had been informed the club had requested the prosecutor's office pursue a trespass warrant against him, dating back to Aug. 7. On that day, Collins was fishing the river with Joe Holman of Chocolay Township.
Holman told the county board he was with Collins when a deputy showed his sheriff's department credentials and demanded to see the identification and fishing licenses of the two men.
Weise confirmed the requests for trespass he dismissed Monday involved the Aug. 7 incident.
"There was a request for two people for recreational trespass," Wiese said. "The allegation was that one of them did not enter (the river) at the bridge."
But witnesses could not positively say who allegedly trespassed.
"There's not evidence to establish who it was that did not access at the bridge," Weise said.
Wiese said because of that fact, and that he believes anglers can legally enter the water at the bridge, he dismissed the two complaints.
Meanwhile, an Alger County man, who also spoke to the county board last week on the club fishing issue, was arrested Thursday for a Sept. 28 trespass incident at the club.
John Michael Hongisto, 66, of Deerton was being questioned by Michigan State Police troopers on an unrelated matter when they ran a check on his identification and discovered a two-count misdemeanor warrant authorized Oct. 5, Weise said.
Hongisto was arraigned Monday in Marquette County District Court for one count of recreational trespass and one count of fishing a trout stream out of season. Both charges are punishable by up to 90 days in jail, fines and restitution for fish taken during a violation.
Hongisto was released after paying 10 percent of a $5,000 bond. He is scheduled for a pretrial conference at 2:10 p.m. March 1.
According to a complaint by Huron Mountain Club patrolman Kenneth Johnson, he saw a male subject wearing blue work-style clothing walking with a fishing rod, near the lower dam parking area at the Salmon Trout River at about 1 p.m. Sept. 28.
This section of the stream is situated about two miles upstream of the County Road KK bridge.
Johnson said the man resembled a subject he had contacted about three weeks earlier, walking near the property line along the river, who he said was Hongisto. Johnson said he recognized Hongisto from his previously having been ticketed for trespassing on club property.
"After Hongisto left the parking area, I lost sight of him," Johnson said in his report. "I followed in the direction he went and located him fishing in the Lower Falls pool of the river, at which point I was able to visually be certain that it was Hongisto."
Johnson said Hongisto had walked past several signs indicating the special spawning season closure, as well as general "no trespassing" signs to get to the pool.
"During less than five minutes of observing Hongisto fish I noted him catch and place two fish in his creel," Johnson said.
Johnson, who was in a club uniform, was joined by a plainclothes officer, Craig Towers. The two officers told Hongisto he was trespassing and fishing on a closed stream.
"I asked Hongisto which direction he had come from and he pointed downstream, away from the direction he had actually come in from," Johnson said.
Johnson said Hongisto then quit fishing and began to leave the area, becoming increasingly uncooperative. Johnson said he reiterated he was a club officer and that both officers were sheriff's deputies.
"Hongisto continued to leave the area, advising he did not lave to give identification or a fishing license, and that we had no right to detain him," Johnson said. "I showed Hongisto my Marquette County Sheriff's Department deputy's card and advised him that he did need to stop and that he was under arrest for trespassing and fishing on a closed stream."
Johnson said Hongisto then stopped walking and Johnson patted him down for weapons. Hongisto cooperated, giving the officers his name and saying he would get his identification out of his truck.
"Hongisto was advised that we would accompany him to his truck and would release him if he could show us valid identification," Johnson said.
As they walked out, Hongisto allegedly acknowledged he had seen the stream closure signs on his way in to the pool.
The club officers confiscated a fish creel from Hongisto, which was said to contain a plastic worm container, a plastic zipper-style bag, a can of insect repellent and three brook trout, sizes 9, 9.25 and 11.75 inches. After taking photographs, the officers disposed of the fish.
At last Tuesday's meeting Hongisto asked the county board to have civil counsel research five legal questions surrounding access to the river and the limitations of the security officers, so the public could be better informed about what is permissible.
"I really feel that nobody can really trust the prosecutor or sheriff to provide answers to these questions, or guidance for that matter, because they apparently are biased in favor of the club," Hongisto said. "Their evasiveness in responses to complaints by the public speak for themselves."
Hongisto also had a final request.
"If club guards are deputized by the sheriff, as I suspect that they are, that this authority be revoked because this authority has been abused," Hongisto said, not referring to any specific incident. "And we're not even talking about liability here, that's another issue. But the fact that they have abused rights of the citizens, for that reason, this reflects badly on the county."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.