Lake Michigan fishery appears to be as good as ever
Written by Booth Newspapers   
Monday, 06 June 2005 05:57
Denny Grinold started setting lines at about 100 feet, where he'd left fish the last time he was on the big pond. As I eased out 10 colors of lead-core from one of the rods, the first downrigger went off.

"Get that fish," shouted Grinold's mate, John Robertson.

"You get it," I said.

By the time Robertson (J.R.) had taken the lead-core rod from my hand -- he insisted I do the reeling -- and I grabbed the rigger rod, the fish was gone.

J.R., who ran the Department of Natural Resources fisheries division for 11 years and retired as chief of the forestry division four years ago, and Grinold, a former president of the charter boat association, have been fishing pals for almost ever. I fished with the pair once before. Sixteen years ago.

Things have changed a bit. Oh, Grinold's 25-foot Bertram (Old Grin) is a ship-shape as ever. But all three of us are a little more gray around the muzzle.

And the fishery is way better than it was at the end of the '80s when we were slipping into a trough that lasted nearly a decade.

J.R. says the Lake Michigan fishery is as good as ever.

"Maybe the chinook fishery isn't quite as good," he said. "But, we've got better diversity. We've got the steelhead and the coho."

J.R. would know. He joined the DNR in 1965, right at the birth of the salmon program. And among his earliest assignments was electro-fishing the northern Michigan rivers to find out what kind of returns the salmon plants generated.

They were more successful than anyone dreamed, J.R. said. And the fish were bigger than anyone thought they'd be, too.

As for this mid-May excursion, after an hour, we'd put just one fish in the boat. Grinold, offering that the east wind might have changed the way the water set up, decided to head west. At 130 feet, we hit another fish.

We spent an hour or so at that depth, sort of figure-eighting our way around. We had some quick action, then it slowed.

So, Grinold headed west again. And somewhere in the 150- to 170-foot range, we started picking them up. Over the next couple hours, making a sine wave on a northward troll, we filled up three chinook tickets (despite the fact that I totally boofed a couple of fish and intentionally shook off a shrimp) and in fact, landed a 10th king that hit before we could get our lines cleared.

"That was quite a bit slower than it's been," Grinold said. "We've been limiting out on chinooks by 9 a.m. Fishing should have been better."

The fishery has been exceptional this spring, Grinold said. The kings showed up within a few days of Mother's Day -- as they are supposed to -- but more cohos than usual are coming to net and the lake's even been yielding some brown trout, a species that has been MIA for the last couple of springs.

If there was anything disconcerting about the trip, it was the lack of lake trout, something that's been on-going for several years in southern Lake Michigan.

J.R. said it's perfectly understandable, because of a change in how the fish are planted.

"The off-shore reefs where they're stocked are in the middle of the lake and when they move off those reefs, they tend to move west instead of east," he said. "That's what it looks like. They've got a pretty good fishery over on the shore in Wisconsin. And without any on-shore plants, we don't get any lakers.

"That's the price you pay for trying to rehabilitate lake trout. But it's a small price to pay. It's the right thing to do."

We finished up, J.R. cleaned the fish and we repaired to the restaurant where we lied of our exploits and generally solved the problems of the world. It was a fine day.

"That was fun," J.R. said as settled the bill. "We ought to do this every 16 years."

 
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