Time for a bit of wild

Horseshoe Bay is a federal wilderness area near St. Ignace on Lake Huron. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Horseshoe Bay is a federal wilderness area near St. Ignace on Lake Huron. Photo: Howard Meyerson

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White River: A scenic trip through national forest

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The White River passes through the Manistee National Forest where paddlers with basic maneuvering skills can enjoy the quiet surroundings. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

MONTAGUE, MI – It was a perfect summer day when I launched at Sischo Bayou, a remote canoe landing on the White River in the Manistee National Forest. I’d come looking for a half-day float, some time to myself and an opportunity to try out a new canoe. The river didn’t let me down.

The White’s waters were high and colored from recent rains. Once I slipped into the current and slid downstream, the quiet dip of my paddle was the only sound to be heard.

The White is a state-designated “Scenic River,” part of Michigan’s Natural Rivers program. Three sections are being studied for inclusion as a National Scenic River, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Its waters emerge from a Newaygo County swamp before flowing southwest for 70 miles through White Cloud and Hesperia, eventually arriving at Montague and White Lake.

Fishing is good all along its length. There are smallmouth bass and trout in its upper reaches, salmon and steelhead in the lower. But, I hadn’t come to fish this day — only to paddle and enjoy the scenery, a lush mix of tag alder and dogwood, pines, oak and aspen.  Continue reading

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Lead and Loons

A family of loons. Photo courtesy of William Norton.

A family of loons. Photo courtesy of William Norton.

By Howard Meyerson

Τom Cooley has examined a lot of dead loons during the past 27 years. They appear every year, dead on beaches and inland lakes where cottage owners, researchers, national park volunteers, or Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) staffers pick them up. The carcasses eventually find their way to the sterile confines of Cooley’s necropsy room.

Cooley is the MDNR pathologist at the agency’s wildlife disease laboratory. His job is to determine why the long-lived birds died, why their haunting calls no longer fill quiet evenings on northern Michigan waters. Cooley has been documenting the cases for nearly three decades. What he’s found is that Common Loons, a Michigan threatened species, die regularly from lead poisoning after ingesting lead fishing tackle. Lead is the third-largest cause of loon mortality in Michigan.

“We’ve looked at 376 [dead] loons over 27 years, not many each year, maybe 11 or 12,” Cooley said. “With lead poisoning, you deal with a sick animal which may go and hide. They may not be as visible as one caught in fishing net, or that flies into something. The numbers may under-represent the (lead) problem, but these are the birds we see.”

Cooley’s records show that 60 loons—16 percent of those examined—died from lead poisoning. Somewhere in the course of their lives they swallowed a lead fishing sinker, a lead jig-head or split-shot, all commonly used by anglers. Loons pick up lead fragments and sinkers in the course of normal feeding. They may swallow a fish with a hook, line, and sinker attached or pick up lead on the bottom while eating gravel to help with digestion. Continue reading

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Trout Trails website helps pinpoint successful spots

Trout Trails online

By Howard Meyerson

Ever find yourself wondering where else you might fish for trout in Michigan, where the fishing is good and river access is guaranteed?  I admit I often end up fishing the same old rivers, one that many know about. Most guidebooks and state resources reiterate these popular sites. And often being short of time, I turn to them for expediency.

But if you examine the state’s trout and salmon waters map, you find those tried and true destinations are just a fraction of the trout water available. Much of the untold bounty remains the province of online forum discussions, word-of-mouth, and the wink and nod exchanged by locals at taverns.

That’s about to change. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced a new program last week, called “Trout Trails.” You can find it online at michigan.gov/trouttrails.

This first iteration has 129 trout fishing waters listed. Each lake or stream has a quick fishing-profile and photo, access points described and a link to Google maps for directions. Each also provides a link to local visitor information, making it possible to plan a trip and find accommodations or book a fishing guide.

It is very user-friendly.

“We developed it to provide anglers with confidence about where they can go and find new places to fish for trout,” said Suzanne Stone, education and outreach specialist with the agency’s fisheries division. “We created it initially targeting out-of-state anglers, but once we developed it, we realized that people downstate would use it, people who never thought to go to the Upper Peninsula because they didn’t know where to go.”  Continue reading

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DNR: No benefits from steelhead net pen experiment

Hatchery steelhead raised in open water pens did not do as well as those released directly to the lake. Photo: USDA.

Hatchery steelhead raised in open water pens did not do as well as those released directly to the lake. Photo: USDA.

By Howard Meyerson

Grand Rapids, Mich. – A 3-year experiment to determine if steelhead survival improves when hatchery-born yearlings are allowed to acclimate in a pen before being released to open water showed no benefit, according to state officials who add the approach may even be detrimental.

“We were a little surprised (by the findings),” notes Jan VanAmberg, manager of Marquette and Thompson state fish hatcheries, referring to 2011- 2013 experiment at three Lake Huron Ports – Harrisville, Harbor Beach, and Van Etten Creek on the AuSable River. “We hoped to see the same dramatic (positive) response we see in chinook salmon. But, the bottom line of this study was net pens do not make a difference with steelhead.” Continue reading

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Officials examine fish farming in the Great Lakes

13-713 RAS aquaculture IA diagram

By Howard Meyerson

Grand Rapids, MI – Whether commercial fish farms will be allowed operate on Michigan’s Great Lakes waters is a question far from being answered, but state officials say it is being considered. A Blue-Ribbon scientific advisory panel was established in early June to study the questions involved.

Two private companies approached the state of Michigan in 2014 with proposals to grow millions of pounds of rainbow trout in floating pens. Neither has submitted an application for a permit, but state officials say the inquiries kick-started the scientific review of potential downsides and issues. A final report with recommendations is expected in October 2015.

“The science panel is looking strictly at cage-culture, not the overall aquaculture industry” said Ed Eisch, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fish Production Manager and agency representative to the state’s Quality of Life Aquaculture Work Group which includes the Michigan Departments of Environmental Quality and Agriculture & Rural Development.

Cage culture, he explained, involves raising fish for market in large, floating net pens in open waters – a practice not currently used in Michigan, though it is allowed by Ontario in the North Channel and Georgian Bay waters of Lake Huron. Other fish farming methods either use self-contained systems where nothing leaves a facility, or flow-through systems like those at state hatcheries.

“A well-run and designed flow-through system is of relatively low concern to me,” said Eisch, who oversees Michigan’s hatcheries. “That’s what our facilities are. But the cages have more questions marks, for sure, because everything is happening right in the Great Lakes.” Continue reading

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Our amazing world

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Were I only lucky enough to see this sight, something photographer Jennifer Khordi caught on camera in the Catskills of New York Monday night, after a very large geomagnetic storm caused them to be seen in many southern latitudes. A series of images from the storm appear on EarthSky today. Check them out. You won’t be disappointed. See more: Awesome auroras! 

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Find secluded lakes for wild-feeling fishing experiences

Heading out a tiny channel to Fish Lake on a misty morning. Photo; Howard Meyerson

Heading out a tiny channel to Fish Lake on a misty morning. Photo; Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Little out-of-the-way lakes often have a special allure. Small and quiet with no shoreline development, they are wild-feeling places where fishing is just fun.

I was reminded of these little gems recently. It was misty and overcast when I launched a canoe at Fish Lake, a 165-acre Barry County water surrounded by state land. Only one angler was out, but I was greeted by a natural chorus of sandhill cranes calling in the distance and a bevy of red-winged blackbirds trilling in the cattails.

I’d come prepared to drift along the shallows, casting poppers and rubber-spiders to entice bluegills and bass. I’d rigged a light spinning rod with a countdown Rapala too, just in case. Both tactics were productive, the fly rod especially so. The fish weren’t big, but the fishing was fun.

Once managed

Fish Lake has narrow, rocky shallows and a steep drop-off that plunges to 56 feet. The lake was managed by the Michigan DNR for many years. Its last survey, in 1994, turned up bluegills, perch, largemouth bass and black crappies, a few northern pike and brown trout and ciscoes. The trout were last stocked in 1979, but they now naturally reproduce in Hough Creek which feeds the lake.

“The growth rate for the bluegills and pumpkinseed is slower than average, but they are still acceptable, 7 inches to 9 inches. Occasionally, you find 10-inchers,” noted Kregg Smith, fisheries biologist with the DNR’s Plainwell office. “It’s a lake that appeals to anglers who want to canoe and belly-boat.”

It should be said the lake also produced a state master angler red-ear sunfish in 2013. The fish was 11.6 inches long. It took a worm in June. Continue reading

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Researchers considering non-toxic lamprey control on northern Michigan waters

Sea lamprey continue to be a challenge on Lake Erie and Huron, but have declined on other Great Lakes. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Researchers hope to rid the Upper Cheboygan River of sea lamprey by introducing sterile males. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

By Howard Meyerson

Federal researchers working to control sea lampreys in the Cheboygan River Watershed are considering a chemical-free approach starting in 2017.

The four-year experiment would involve releasing sterile male lampreys in the Pigeon, Maple and Sturgeon Rivers.

All three are tributaries of the Cheboygan River, which has been found in recent years to have a landlocked lamprey population. Those lampreys, which don’t migrate out to Lake Huron to feed, emerge from river bottoms where they live as larvae, make their way downstream during their metamorphosis to a blood-sucking parasite, and feed on fish in Burt and Mullett lakes before returning upstream to spawn and die.

Two years of netting surveys found an annual total of 200 or fewer adult (spawning) lampreys in all three rivers combined, according to federal officials. A third year of data is being collected this summer. Continue reading

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A beauty of a snake

The Blue Racer is a fast, curious and non-venomous snake found in Michigan. snake  Photo: Howard Meyerson.

The Blue Racer is a fast, curious and non-venomous snake found in Michigan. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

You don’t see these very often in the wilds of Michigan –  Coluber constrictor foxi – otherwise known as the  Blue Racer, but a few of us did today while hiking on the North Country National Scenic Trail.

The encounter was a curious one. Three of us stared intently at it while it stared back at us, coiled in the high grass, flicking its tongue. It’s a beautiful snake, without question, non-venomous, but aggressive when cornered.  We didn’t give an opportunity to prove it could retaliate with a nasty bite.

I’ve often thought about them having experienced one in close proximity as a child camping with other kids at summer camp. That snake slithered into our old canvas pup-tent and scared the hell out of of us.  Seeing it in the wild today brought back fond memories, of scrambling, screaming kids uncertain about whether to run or try to catch it.

A Michigan DNR map showing where they have been seen in Michigan identifies only nine locations, though they were once more common.

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