Michigan revives coho stock
Written by Sout Bend Tribune   
Monday, 24 March 2008 03:49

The extra $10 million that the Michigan DNR "found" in its budget last December produced good news for coho anglers.

Thanks to more money, coho stocking will return to normal in 2009.

Let me explain.

Because of projected deficits a few years ago, Michigan slashed several programs, including its coho stocking from 1.6 million to 800,000 fish a year.

Fortunately, the state was able to stock about 400,000 more than that the past two years, thanks to cash donations from sportsmen in bordering states.

However, with no donations for 2009 plants, the hatchery only took enough eggs last fall for 800,000 fish. That was done before the DNR realized it had saved more money than projected and had enough money to resume taking enough coho eggs this fall for a 1.6 million plant in 2010.

(Coho spend 16 months in Michigan's hatcheries; that's why eggs taken this fall won't be stocked until 2010.)

Of course, this could signal lean years ahead for Southern Lake Michigan anglers. Coho are the bread and butter fish down here since most planted throughout the lake migrate to our warmer waters each spring. Fishing can be phenomenal for a month or more, beginning in late March.

Lake Michigan Coordinator Jim Dexter says there is a chance that anglers won't notice the deficit.

"We've had years when we stocked low numbers and didn't see much difference, yet we've had full stocking complements and fishing wasn't that good," said the Michigan biologist.

Dexter says Lake Michigan has changed so much the past 10 years that the fishery is less predictable.

Last spring, for example, the in-shore coho fishery was fabulous early, but the fish disappeared to the middle of the lake when water temperatures rose prematurely.

And how about king salmon? Even though fish managers trimmed king stockings lake-wide in recent years, king catch rates are going through the roof.

"They are well in excess of where we would like them to be, and preliminary data indicates that half of the population consists of naturally reproduced fish," Dexter offered. "That makes it difficult to balance our population of predators and prey."

For the time being, coho stocks are safe, unless of course, budgets get hacked again. The king salmon numbers, however, will be scrutinized closely.

In other news, Dexter said that rumors of a forage base shortage are inaccurate. Alewife production appears to be better than it was in 2006.

"We definitely have to make sure we don't over-graze the forage base, but right now, we're no more than slightly concerned about that," Dexter said.

The lake is changing for anglers, too.

"It is a lot clearer than it was three years ago and that is changing fish habits as well," he noted. "That scatters the bait and makes the fish more spooky, so anglers have to change their tactics, too."
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