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|Winter steelhead outperform summer strain|
|Written by Grand Rapids Press|
|Sunday, 15 March 2009 10:14|
Anglers catch summer steelhead as frequently as winter steelhead if they are fishing offshore, but not so on Michigan rivers, according to a new state study. Winter-run steelhead dominate the streams.
"We have clear findings," said Jory Jonas, a research biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Great Lakes Fisheries Research Station in Charlevoix. "In the open lake, they are not very different. But in rivers, during prime fishing season, the winter run outperformed the summer by far."
The 13-year study examined the return rate of the two steelhead hatchery strains, the Michigan steelhead, which runs in the fall, and the Skamania steelhead, which runs in the summer. Anglers caught two to seven times more winter steelhead per 10,000 of either fish planted.
Those results reinforce what Michigan fish managers have known: The Skamania steelhead is popular with some summer anglers, but its returns might not justify returning to a full-scale planting program.
The Skamania was named after its hatchery of origin in Washington state. They were brought to Indiana waters in the 1970s and to Michigan waters in the early '80s. They were introduced to provide an additional summer river fishery. Anglers liked their brutish fight and the long, torpedo-shaped fish became the subject of river mythology.
"The fall steelhead gives a good fight, but Skamania are better," said captain Ken Neidlinger, owner of Silverking Sportfishing Charters, in St. Joseph. "I've seen them come out of the water nine times once they are hooked."
Michigan's Skamania program ramped up from 1984 to 1990. More than a dozen rivers around the state were planted with summer-run hatchery stock. The fish were put into rivers each year, including the Au Sable, Betsie, Muskegon, White and Pere Marquette.
But time did not prove to be a friend for the Skamania.
"We didn't see the fishing effort, and the returns were not what we wanted," said Gary Whalen, the fish production manger for the DNR. "Based on that, we later made a decision to only use them in a couple of places."
Jonas' study began in 1996, comparing angler catches on specific rivers where both strains still were planted. Coded wire tags embedded in the snouts of the fish helped biologists track the fish's life history.
Paired plantings (winter and summer strains) were made at three sites along Big Manistee River through 2000. The St. Joseph also got paired plantings at five sites along its length. The study examined whether upstream or downstream plantings made a difference.
A third river, the Sturgeon in the Upper Peninsula, showed too few returns to discuss, Jonas said.
Indiana, which maintains the Lake Michigan Skamania hatchery broodstock, plants 160,000 7-inch Skamania steelhead in the St. Joseph River each spring. Another 80,000 5- to 6-inch fish are planted in the river each fall. Indiana trades its summer steelhead for coho and chinook salmon raised at Michigan hatcheries.
"It provides us with a resource that others don't have," said Stu Shipman, the northern region fisheries supervisor with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. "We will continue Skamania for the near future, but the questions we have are fundamental science."
When the summer winds blow right at St. Joe, pushing warm water out and letting cold water in, the near-shore fishing can be phenomenal for summer steelhead. But when it blows wrong, or not at all, it can be a bust.
"The weather the last few years has limited the returns," Shipman said. "We haven't had the returns we expected. We don't know if its the weather or predator-prey dynamic."
Jonas' study found the summer steelhead catch at St. Joe was elevated slightly near shore in the fall steelhead strain, but only during one month in the summer. They were equal in the offshore fishery.
Creel studies of the river catch, however, turned up 15 winter steelhead per 10,000 fish planted, compared to two of the summer run per 10,000 plantings.
Anglers on the Manistee River caught more summer-run fish in July and early August, but winter fish outnumbered summer the rest of the time. A creel survey there showed four winter-run fish compared to two summer runs for every 10,000 fish planted of each.
Very few anglers were thinking about or catching summer steelhead there, Jonas said. Anglers say they have other things on their mind.
"In summertime, I'm not fishing the river. I fish the lake," said Paul Schlafley, owner of Riverside Charters in Manistee. "We get some of the Skamania, but most of what we catch are the fall fish. Our experience with the summer run has not been that good. We haven't had a good run in five or six years."
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