Run, salmon, run
Written by Traverse City Record Eagle   
Monday, 09 October 2006 16:39

Harold Dews sat along the Betsie River untangling his line, while two dozen other anglers cast for salmon on the same small stretch of river. "I've never been in a creek like this and caught so many fish in my life," said Dews of Carrollton, Ky., who was fishing for salmon for the first time with eight of his friends. "It's been a great time, it's gonna be hard to get back home."

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It's chinook, or king, and coho spawning season on area rivers and creeks. Salmon were first introduced in the Great Lakes in 1967 to control the exotic invasive alewife population, which was first documented in Lake Michigan in 1949. Alewives, which thrived after the sea lamprey destroyed their predators, are now the salmon's primary food source.

The fish typically live in the lake for three years before returning in the fall to the river where they were born or planted to spawn and then die.

This year, a lot of Lake Michigan salmon returned.

"The food base for these particular salmon was really good," said Todd Kalish, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist. "They had a lot to eat and survived really well from yearling to adult."

Salmon populations tend to be cyclical, Kalish said. This year the number of alewives and the salmon that feed on them are down significantly in Lake Huron but up in Lake Michigan.

Coho salmon are smaller, have white gums and tails that are spotted only through top half. They mature in the river and are typically more silver in color when they enter the lake. Coho harvested at the Boardman River weir in Traverse City average two to four pounds.

Chinook salmon have black gums, are larger and have a completely spotted tail. They are typically brownish black when they enter the river after maturing in the lake. Chinook harvested at the Boardman weir average about eight to 12 pounds.

Weirs on the Platte, Boardman and Little Manistee rivers prevent salmon from getting upstream. Fish from the Platte and Little Manistee are harvested for their eggs, which are taken to the Platte River Hatchery, which raises coho, and the Little Manistee Hatchery, which raises chinook.

A weir on the Boardman River acts as a secondary egg facility in case the other two cannot produce enough eggs. The DNR also has a contract with American Canadian Fisheries, which takes salmon to Bear Lake to be processed primarily for cat food.

"Salmon is the biggest time of year out here," said Jacob McWethy, a DNR fisheries assistant.

Standing on the banks of the Boardman River in downtown Traverse City, Bill Rosinski made casts to the shadows cruising upstream.

"Next to being married, it's the next best thing," he said.
 
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