Muskegon River Lodge Blog

Conservation, Recreation and Life on the Muskegon River

Anglers getting the lockdown blues

Really, hasn’t this gone on long enough?

According to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order “individuals may leave their home or place of residence, and travel as necessary, to engage in outdoor activity, including walking, hiking, running, cycling, or any other recreational activity consistent with remaining at least 6 feet from people outside an individual’s household. Visitors should not travel long distances, unless it is for a purpose considered critical. Nonessential travel could unintentionally increase the spread of COVID-19.”

You can go fishing alone, from a river bank, (take a 6-foot rod to measure your social distance accurately) but you can’t go out with one or two other anglers on a charter or guided drift. You can paddle your kayak, but keep your motorboat tied up at the dock. No, you can’t drive up north to your cottage to go fishing, or just relax. But yes, you need a new fishing license as of April 1.

Writing in the Toledo Blade, Matt Markey described a growing pushback on the angling restrictions:

The governor’s dictum seemed akin to putting most of the state’s more than 800,000 fishermen in solitary confinement, based on the actions of a few miscreants. She used a scattergun and took out a flotilla of law-abiding, quarantine-abiding, social-distancing abiding and sensible anglers, with the hope she just might nail a few violators, and look good in the process.

Michigan was already policing the boat ramps along the lake and those on the Detroit River, and people fishing from the same boat had to provide identification that showed they were from the same household, or face a stiff fine. That made sense, so husbands and wives, fathers and sons, moms and daughters, or solo anglers could still get out on the water, shake off the neurosis that “stuck inside these four walls” can generate, and maintain the safety guidelines associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

It is possible to have the boat launches along the lake and the river be utilized by many, but also have those fishermen practice patience and safe spacing while at the docks. The majority have done just that — they don’t want to get sick, or bring the virus home to their families.

And yes we understand the gravity of the coronavirus threat. But why not trust people to act like adults rather than treating everyone like they’re a suspected knucklehead?

Things aren’t quite as bad here as they are in California, yet.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A teleconference with California regulators to discuss a potential limited ban on freshwater sportfishing amid the coronavirus pandemic was abruptly canceled Thursday after it descended into chaos, with some of those who called in branding officials as “fascists” and shouting “make fishing great again.”

The Fish and Game Commission meeting was aimed at deciding whether to give emergency powers to Charlton Bonham, the governor’s appointee overseeing the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Sacramento Bee reported.

If the powers are granted, Bonham could limit fishing in some California rivers, streams and lakes at the request of local officials concerned that visiting recreational fishing enthusiasts might spread the virus.

You’d think there would some reasonable accommodation, some golden mean, between a concern for public health at this critical time and just letting people continue with their lives responsibly.

Vermont seems to have struck a balance. Fishing is allowed and boat ramps are open, although out of staters are discouraged from visiting. State officials have added a list of precautions, which are basically common sense. But the benefits of fishing have not been lost on the Vermont governor.

The most recent amendment to Governor Scott’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order continues to exempt outdoor recreational activities, including fishing, for health and exercise. Yes – you can go outside and go fishing. It’s a healthy outdoor activity – good for your mind, body, and soul. After all, we need a reprieve from the stresses we’ve all been under, and fishing is a proven stress-reliever.

So, for now, let’s observe the executive orders, the laws of the state, and do our part to contain this potent coronavirus. And let’s also look forward to getting back on the Mighty Muskegon and doing all the outdoors activities we love. Sooner rather than later.

A Michigan comeback for the arctic grayling?

A Michigan comeback for the arctic grayling?

Trout Unlimited posted an article and video about the reintroduction of the arctic grayling in local waters. But why is it so tough to reintroduce a fish that was once so plentiful?

According to biologists, there are a number of factors:

Competition from non-native species. Grayling in Michigan likely evolved with the state’s other native salmonid—the brook trout. But the introduction of rainbow and brown trout likely spelled doom for the native fish.

Habitat. This is a no-brainer. Where grayling live and thrive today throughout the north country of Canada and Alaska, habitat is virtually pristine. In the northern Lower Penninsula of Michigan, the habitat has changed dramatically from the time grayling provided both sport and sustenance to a growing state. Logging and mining have taken their toll on the region’s watersheds. Thankfully, thanks to long-term efforts to protect and improve the nation’s water quality, habitat is once again more welcoming to grayling. 

Imprinting. This may be the trickiest factor. Learning from somewhat successful efforts in Montana, Michigan’s fisheries experts are now working to restore grayling to high-quality watersheds by incubating the eyed, or fertilized eggs, in the target stream. In other words, grayling tend to do better in the environment if they can imprint on the chemical makeup of a single river or stream as they develop and even before they hatch.

Here’s more background from the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly:

It is easy to imagine why a reintroduction holds value. The Arctic Grayling, with its sail-like dorsal fin and purple/gray hue, is a one of a kind fish that displays features you would expect to see in a marine fish. It is an iconic species and in the lower 48 states is native to only Michigan and Montana. It also holds cultural importance to Tribal nations and Native people, as well as, a historical significance to the unspoiled wilderness of Michigan’s heritage.

But why now? And haven’t we done this before and failed? These questions are valid, and the simple answer is…”the current initiative is different”. Since the last stocking in the 1990’s there is a better chance of success because of new information from Montana, a better understanding of Michigan rivers, and a focused research effort to understand the key river conditions needed for sustainable grayling populations. It is exciting that this effort may have implications for the Muskegon River watershed.

Illustration: Wikimedia Commons. Check out the 20 minute video.

Teach them how to cast

TakeMeFishing.org just published a quick guide to getting a kid handy with a fishing rod. Muskegon River Lodge pro-tip: Avoid buying those cartoon character licensed mini-rods that come packaged with line and lures, etc. They don’t last and they’re not fixable. You’re welcome.

Excerpts (and go to link in the text for more tips:

Here’s the most practical and helpful way of how to teach a child to cast a fishing rod: practice first on land in an open field, not while also trying to catch fish on the water. Teaching a child to cast onshore gives him/her time to develop timing and coordination, and you can build up to increasing accuracy by giving them distances to achieve (start short) and broad target areas to shoot for.

Set the gear up for left- or right-handed use, whichever is appropriate. Let them do what comes naturally to them.

Use practice casting plugs, which are aerodynamic weight-forward rubber or plastic objects without hooks, to start and to gain proficiency.

The science is settled: Rivers make you happy

Muskegon River Lodge video

No argument here:

In recent years, stressed-out urbanites have been seeking refuge in green spaces, for which the proven positive impacts on physical and mental health are often cited in arguments for more inner-city parks and accessible woodlands. The benefits of “blue space” – the sea and coastline, but also rivers, lakes, canals, waterfalls, even fountains – are less well publicised, yet the science has been consistent for at least a decade: being by water is good for body and mind.

Proximity to water – especially the sea – is associated with many positive measures of physical and mental wellbeing, from higher levels of vitamin D to better social relations. “Many of the processes are exactly the same as with green space – with some added benefits,” says Dr Mathew White, a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter and an environmental psychologist with BlueHealth, a programme researching the health and wellbeing benefits of blue space across 18 (mostly European) countries.

An extensive 2013 study on happiness in natural environments – to White’s mind, “one of the best ever” – prompted 20,000 smartphone users to record their sense of wellbeing and their immediate environment at random intervals. Marine and coastal margins were found by some distance to be the happiest locations, with responses approximately six points higher than in a continuous urban environment. The researchers equated it to “the difference between attending an exhibition and doing housework”.

Read “Blue spaces: why time spent near water is the secret of happiness” in the Guardian.

Fishing report: The February turning point

Photo: RiverQuest

The latest from Capt. Steven Kuieck at RiverQuest Charters:

“Unusual” would is the only way to describe this winter’s weather. High water, mostly from rain events, and some family vacation time have kept me off the river for a fairly significant amount of time. While warmer than normal weather and high flows aren’t completely unusual for the month of January, cold, snow, and more snow is normally January on the Muskegon River.
February steelhead fishing, though, is one of our favorite times to chase steelhead. As the sun’s angle slowly ascends higher in the sky, the first spring steelhead begin their trek upstream from Big Blue. With each passing day, the run builds with new fish holding in preferred lies we know well as the steelhead prepare for the spring spawn.
Winter two-handed rod Spey fishing is a favorite fly fishing method of ours since wintering steelhead and new arrivals focus on sculpins, gobies, and small river baitfish. To be sure, the cold water presents its challenges for the fisherman given the slowed metabolism of the steelhead, but challenges are part and parcel of why we fly fish. Then, too, nymphing deep runs and pools with single-handed rods is a productive method that many of our customers enjoy because it is especially effective at this time of year.
Of course, the bonus of winter steelheading is the solitude, quiet, and flat-out beauty of the river valley itself. Trees clothed in white, wildlife moving about, and the inky-black promise of the river make for a most memorable adventure. On any given day, one may see deer, eagles, osprey, herons, turkeys, mink, muskrats, and even an otter or two.
Of course, nasty weather is a possibility for any day in February so dress for the conditions and book a backup date, just in case the weather forecast for your day isn’t promising.
Finally, with spring just around the corner, dates are filling for our guides. If you haven’t booked your dates yet, please consider doing so soon. Feel free to call Steve at (616) 293-0501 to learn more and to talk fly fishing for winter and spring steelhead. As has long been our practice, there’s no obligation or expectation to book a day with RiverQuest when you look into fishing with us. It’s our pleasure to share our knowledge of the Muskegon River steelhead fishery and how you might join us in experiencing it with a great day of fly fishing.

You can also email Steve at fishon@riverquestcharters.com

Mayfly populations crashing?

A new report concludes that mayfly populations are in a precipitous decline in Great Lakes regions, likely due to pollution and algal blooms. This should be a concern not just for anglers, but for anyone who cares about the health of the ecosystem.

These insect explosions provide food for a wide variety of animals, from perch and other commercially important freshwater fish to birds and bats. But new research shows that mayflies are in decline.

“We were really surprised to see that there was a decline year after year,” says lead author Phillip Stepanian, a bio-meteorologist at the University of Notre Dame. “That was really unexpected.”

These swarms are so big and thick that they appear on weather radar used to track rain and snow, and for a long time, meteorologists ignored these signals as a type of “noise,” he says. But Stepanian, who was trained as a meteorologist, realized these signals could provide useful information about populations and movements of animals like birds and insects, including mayflies.

An article in Smithsonian Magazine suggests that a “possible culprit is fertilizer runoff from farms, which have been triggering algal blooms in Lake Erie. Algal blooms release toxins into the environment, to which mayflies are “highly sensitive,” according to the researchers.

Pesticides are also flowing into the Great Lakes tributaries. One 2018 study, for instance, found that concentrations of the neonicotinoid class of insecticides was up to 40 times higher than acceptable limits set by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Aquatic Life Benchmark. The mayfly species Hexagenia, on which the new study focused, “are among the most sensitive aquatic insects to a suite of these commonly applied pesticides,” the researchers write.

The reduction in mayfly numbers is also disconcerting because these insects play a crucial role in the food chain. As underwater nymphs, they act as a crucial food source for fish and wading birds; once they emerge onto land, they are eaten by other insects, birds and bats.

Great Lakes rising: No relief in sight

Lake Michigan erosion threatens West Michigan beach properties in Norton Shores and Ferrysburg on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. (Cory Morse | MLive.com)

The January report from Environment and Climate Change Canada:

All the Great Lakes have declined since their annual high levels, however the December water level was either the second or third highest on all the lakes for the period of record (1918-2018).  With very high levels on all of the lakes and the possibility of large storms and winds during winter months there is high risk for accelerated coastline erosion and flooding to occur in low lying areas. For current information and forecasts, please refer to local sources of information listed below.

We are now at the time of year when both Lakes Erie and Ontario have reached their seasonal minimum levels.  From this point on, they would be expected to hold steady and then start to rise over the next few months.  Typically Lakes Superior and Michigan/Huron should continue their seasonal decline for a few more months before starting to rise again.

Although all the lakes are below their record levels, they are all high enough that extremely wet conditions could result in more record highs in early 2020.  As well, with Lakes Superior starting January at its second highest level on record and Michigan-Huron at its highest beginning of January level, even average conditions would lead to record high monthly-mean levels in the coming months for these lakes.

Forecast:

We are at the time of year when Lakes Superior and Michigan-Huron would typically still be declining under average water supplies, while Lake Erie and Ontario would hold steady or begin their seasonal rise in the coming months.

As mentioned above, the level of Lake Superior is expected to decline during the winter, however, Lake Superior starts out this year at a very high level. So high that even with average conditions, lake levels could match record levels and wet conditions would lead to record high levels for the next few months.

The likelihood of reaching record levels in the coming months is even higher for Lake Michigan-Huron. In fact, it would take drier than average water supplies to prevent a record high level for January.  While even average conditions would result in record highs throughout the winter and spring.

More details here.

Save the date: 2020 Midwest Fly Fishing Expo

The 2020 Expo is scheduled for Saturday, March 14, and Sunday, March 15, at the Macomb Community College Sports and Expo Center in Warren, Michigan. The event offers dozens of presentations and demonstrations and more than 100 exhibitors — rod builders; fly tiers; guides and outfitters; artists; booksellers; float boats and conservation organizations.

Get updates on Facebook. And check out the Expo website.

Governors: Growing outdoor recreation helps our kids and our economies

From the Traverse-City Record Eagle: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah on a new push to get kids out of the house and outdoors:

Our two states, Utah and Michigan, were the first and most recent to create offices of outdoor recreation, in part because of a desire to advance efforts to provide kids and others with greater access to the great outdoors.

We also see a great opportunity to partner with a sector that contributes $887 billion and more than 7.6 million jobs to the national economy each year and is growing faster than the U.S. economy as a whole.

There are 13 other states across the country whose governors have created similar offices or task forces, and the number is expected to continue to increase.

They’re talking up the Outdoor Recreation Learning Network which was launched last year by the National Governors Association to encourage people to enjoy their natural resources.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that the outdoors industry employed more than 4.5 million people nationally in 2016, and generated more than $730 billion in economic impact.

NGA Solutions: The Center for Best Practices will partner with state outdoor recreation directors through the network to convene governors’ office staffs and other state officials. Through peer-to-peer exchanges, the network will spotlight strategies states can use to advance outdoor recreation. It will focus on key issue areas, including conservation, stewardship, education, workforce training, economic development, infrastructure, public health, equity and wellness.

“Utah launched the first state outdoor recreation office in 2013 to focus on recreation management, support recreation businesses and ensure that our state’s cherished natural assets can sustain economic growth for years to come,” said Utah Governor Gary Herbert, who noted that outdoor recreation contributes $12.3 billion to the Utah economy and employs more than 110,000 people.

The founding sponsors of the Outdoor Recreation Learning Network include REI Co-op, the Outdoor Industry Association and the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.

“We have seen states with offices of outdoor recreation take great steps forward promoting and bolstering outdoor recreation – bringing more jobs and revenue to rural and gateway communities and coordinating amongst government agencies while helping to get more children and families outside and into healthier lifestyles,” said David Weinstein, state and local policy director for Outdoor Industry Association. “The Outdoor Recreation Learning Network will be a great resource for existing outdoor recreation offices and for states looking to develop new offices to collaborate on and improve outdoor programs and initiatives – OIA looks forward to helping build it.”

Fish farm fail

Over the holidays, news broke of a fire at a commercial salmon farm in British Columbia. Story from Alaska Public Media:

Tens of thousands of Atlantic salmon escaped a Canadian fish farm that caught fire Dec. 20, north of Vancouver Island. Mowi Canada West released a statement confirming there were 21,000 non-native salmon in the pens at the time of the blaze. It downplayed threats to wild stocks.

“Judging by the number of sea lions congregating near the involved farm it is likely many have already been eaten by predators,” the statement reads. “That said, we take our responsibility to prevent any impacts seriously, and will take every reasonable action to do so.”

The Vancouver-based Watershed Watch Salmon Society’s science advisor Stan Proboszcz says this latest escape off Robertson Island — and a recent mass die-off nearby — highlights the risks of raising salmon in sea-based pens.

“Farmed fish can harbor parasites and viruses that can be spread to wild fish,” Proboszcz said. “So that’s one of the big risks that we see with an escape like this.”

We posted the trailer to Artifishal on this blog last month. Very much worth watching. We caught it on Amazon Prime. Patagonia (Yvon Chouinard is a producer of the film) describes it this way: “Artifishal is a film about the high cost—environmental, financial and cultural—of hatcheries and fish farms, and our mistaken reliance on human-engineered solutions. It explores our loss of faith in nature, and the impact on communities and ecosystems as wild salmon slide toward extinction.”

Michigan has had its own battles over fish farming, notably on the Au Sable River. Bridge gives the rundown of how that shook out in 2018. Snip:

A northern Michigan fly fishing group announced a settlement Thursday of a four-year legal battle that will remove a commercial fish farm from the trout-flush waters of the Au Sable River. 

The $160,000 settlement, announced by the 1,200-member Anglers of the Au Sable, pitted fly fishing and environmental groups against a commercial fish farm that critics said posed a danger to the legendary trout stream. 

press release from the Anglers group said that as part of the agreement, a controversial permit for the farm issued by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality would be withdrawn and commercial fish farming by the Harrietta Hills Trout Farm would end on the river by the end of this year. 

More here from the Traverse City Record-Eagle:

The business first arrived in 2012 with plans to produce upward of 300,000 pounds of rainbow trout per year, up from the approximate 70,000 pounds at present. The operation obtained a state permit but was tied up in court by the Anglers group, which argued the aquaculture project would pollute the river and harm native trout.

“We had no fear that scientifically, we are right,” said Dan Vogler, owner of Harrietta Hills. “We were simply trying to use a facility already on the landscape.”

Vogler said he is disappointed but decided continuing the hatchery’s operation wasn’t worth the cost of fighting two opposition lawsuits. The settlement will be “almost enough” to cover his legal fees, he said.

The company had been releasing fingerling rainbow trout into the hatchery’s raceways and harvests them when they grow to 1.25 pounds, selling them to restaurants and a grocery distributor.

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