Northern Michigan fishing guide builds big boats for small rivers

Phil Croff's cedar and walnut drift boats provide a stable platform to fish from on the swift northern Michigan rivers where he guides anglers. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Phil Croff’s cedar and walnut drift boats provide a stable platform to fish from on the swift northern Michigan rivers where he guides anglers. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

INDIAN RIVER, MI — While enjoying breakfast at a north woods restaurant just after dawn, Phil Croff noticed some men in the parking lot ogling his boat. They got out of their truck and made a bee-line to his wooden drift boat and trailer.

Minutes later, upon entering the eatery, they saw Croff in his waders and inquired if it was his. Ever-friendly and with a smile, Croff affirmed it was and accepted their praise. Returning to his potatoes and eggs, he looked up a moment later, smiled, and said, “It happens everywhere I go.”

For Croff, a 45-year-old drift boat builder and fishing guide from Alanson, it was a fine way to start the day, almost as good as what would follow, fishing one of his favorite tip-of-the-mitt streams, the shallow and swift waters his boats were designed to float.

“I grew up fishing small streams. I am pretty fond of them,” explained Croff, owner of Croff-Craft Custom Driftboats. “One thing is they are easier to read than big rivers like the Manistee. But, I also like rowing on smaller, quick-turning streams. It’s more exciting than bigger rivers.” Continue reading

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Lake Michigan salmon runs proving slower, smaller than average

A chinook salmon attempts to jump the raceway divider  at the Little Manistee River egg-collection facility.  Photo: Howard Meyerson

A chinook salmon attempts to jump the raceway divider at the Little Manistee River egg-collection station operated by the Michigan DNR. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

BEULAH, MI — Fall is the time of year when Lake Michigan salmon start nosing their way up natal streams to spawn and die. State fish managers, however, are uncertain about what to expect this season. Many of the salmon runs on the lake shoreline are slower than average.

“I wish we had more fish,” said Aaron Switzer, the Platte River State Fish Hatchery biologist. “The past two years have been really good for coho (on the Platte River). We had 30,000 come in. At this time last year, we passed over 20,000. So far this year, we’ve passed 9,500 cohos. The run isn’t turning out as well as I’d hoped.”

Switzer is in charge of raising 1.57 million coho salmon at the Platte River hatchery, which produces the young fish that are stocked every April in rivers such as the Platte, Boardman, Grand, Rogue, St. Joseph and Manistee, among others. Switzer relies on returning cohos to provide eggs for the stocking program.

“At this point, we have no worries about completing the egg-take for Michigan,” Switzer said. “We usually collect about 5 million coho eggs. Michigan gets 3 million and Illinois and Indiana get a million each. We can do that with about 5,000 fish.” Continue reading

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Is the U.S. Forest Service Hoping to Cash in on Wilderness Areas?

Dark Canyon Wilderness in Utah. Photo: U.S. Forest Service.

Dark Canyon Wilderness in Utah. Photo: U.S. Forest Service.

As someone who has made a living writing about and photographing wilderness areas, among many topics having to do with Michigan’s national forests, and others, it’s troubling to see the U.S. Forest Service attempt to move in the direction of requiring a special permit to produce “commercial work” in  those areas.

This piece, found on Midcurrent, a great fly fishing blog, describes the changes that may in store for journalists.

Fortunately, it appears the U.S. outdoor writing community has roundly criticized the decision. And, it appears in the Midcurrent piece, that the forest service is backtracking, clarifying that no permit will be required to produce news stories, documentaries or features in those locales.  But another piece by  Idaho Public Television suggests the reality may be less clear.

The move isn’t without precedent.  Special permits are already required to film or photograph in national parks but those requirements appear to apply mostly to large or complex commercial productions, of one sort or another.  Breaking news stories are exempt. Hiking a trail and writing a story about it or shooting photographs of the trip does not appear to require a permit.

As is pointed out in both pieces, outdoor writers have for years gone in to write stories and features about all sorts of topics, from the plight of spotted owls and the conflict with timber cutters to features about great travel destinations and/or analysis of prospective wilderness designations. Many of those stories would not be considered breaking news, but they could be considered commercial works because they are sold to publications, or are produced by staff of those publications or for television.

Should a special permit (and fee) be required each time a journalist sets foot in a wilderness area? I think not. Outdoor journalists may make a living selling their stories and photographs, but most of their works serve to inform the public,  and, as such, provide a service to federal forest management agencies.

Read more: Is the U.S. Forest Service Hoping to Cash in on Wilderness Areas?

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Golden Lotus Dam: Permanent draw down complete, removal to come

The dam at Song of the Morning Ranch Yoga Retreat will no longer impound water and is slated for deconstruction in 2015. Photo: Howard Meyerson

The Song of the Morning Ranch Yoga Retreat dam is slated for deconstruction in 2015. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

VANDERBILT, MI -  The Pigeon River, north of Vanderbilt, is once again flowing freely through the Pigeon River Country State Forest. The last of 23 stop logs in the Song of the Morning Ranch yoga camp dam was permanently removed Sept. 11, allowing the 47.4-mile Blue Ribbon trout stream, and state-designated “wild-scenic river,” to run unencumbered from its headwaters to Mullett Lake.

“We’re down to the bottom of the existing spillway and have removed all capacity to impound water,” said Jim Pawloski, a dam safety engineer with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. “The next phase is constructing a sediment trap upstream of the old dam structure to collect the sand that was in the impoundment.”

The impoundment drawdown began in May and was overseen by DEQ. One 4-inch steel stop log was removed every three days to meter out the accompanying silt flow and let it wash through the river system. It is the first of several steps in the lengthy process ahead to completely remove the dam and restore the landscape.

A permanent drawdown was called for in a settlement negotiated between the state and Golden Lotus Inc., which operates the Song of the Morning Ranch. Golden Lotus was fined $120,000 to mitigate the effects of its most recent 2008 silt spill from the dam, a catastrophic event that killed an estimated 450,000 trout.  Continue reading

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Deer Hunter Be Safe: Hidden issues can cause problems

Bow hunters fall out of tree stands every year. Photo: Dave Kenyon, Michigan DNR

Hunters who fail to wear a safety harness or connect it fall out of tree stands every year. Photo: Dave Kenyon, Michigan DNR

By Howard Meyerson

WYOMING, MI — Michigan’s 10-week bow hunting season opens Oct. 1, and deer hunters all over the state have been getting ready.

There are bows to tune and tree stands to inspect. Shooting lanes have been identified. It’s an exciting time.

But experienced hunters also know it is a time for caution and wise choices. Climbing up into a tree or an elevated blind has its risks, as does dragging a dead deer out of the woods.

Dr. Matthew Sevensma, a specialist in cardiovascular medicine and the clinical operations director for Metro Health Hospital, in Wyoming, recently advised two deer hunters not to go out this year. They were among 45 hunters who attended a free Hunter Health 15933625-largeScreening offered by the hospital. Electrocardiograms for both men showed cardiovascular issues that presented a serious risk.

“The first was a patient who had undergone stenting to an artery in his neck and not followed up consistently with his doctors,” Sevensma said.

“The second … had very little recent medical care. He had an abnormal EKG that suggested a prior heart attack, and the patient was not aware of this.” Continue reading

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Muskegon schoolchildren put Isle Royale wolf lessons to use, build website for kids

Teacher Laura Mitchell, discusses the food web with eight year old Janae Fisher, a third grade student at Reeths Puffer Elementary.

Teacher Laura Mitchell, discusses the food web with eight year old Janae Fisher, a third grade student at Reeths Puffer Elementary. Photo: Howard Meyersn

By Howard Meyerson

MUSKEGON, MI –There is something remarkable taking place in the third- and fourth-grade classroom at Reeths-Puffer Elementary School in Muskegon. Eight-, 9- and 10-year-old children are learning about predator-prey relationships, the food chain and the wolves on Isle Royale.

If you have children, and even if you don’t, you might want to look at a link on the Isle Royale National Park website under Wolf Management, where a website about wolves “put together for kids by kids,” is highlighted. It’s called “Grey Wolf Facts for Kids.”

The elegant and informative website was written and developed by the children at Reeths-Puffer Elementary, one of Michigan’s official Green Schools. The “green” designation is conferred when schools achieve certain environmental goals.

“I was supposed to put the frame of the website together, but some of the kids had more skills than I did, and they did most of it,” admitted Laura Mitchell, their teacher, a 21-year veteran in Michigan’s public schools. “They (the students) wanted kids to know that wolves are not scary creatures but are powerful creatures.” Continue reading

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Sandhill Crane’s Rebound in Michigan Opens Hunt Possibilities

Cranes feeding in a fallow field. Photo: Tom Hodgson

Cranes feeding in a fallow field. Photo: Tom Hodgson

By Howard Meyerson

Michigan’s iconic Sandhill Cranes, majestic and standing three to four feet tall, are by all accounts an example of conservation success. Once nearly extirpated by market hunting and wetland loss, they thrive today in marshes all around the state. Nearly 24,000 were counted across Michigan last spring. Only 27 Lower Peninsula pairs could be found in 1944.

“Sandhill Crane populations have grown exponentially over the past few decades,” reports Dave Luukkonen, avian research specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). “From 1966 to 2013, the growth rate has been 10.5 percent a year. At one point they were endangered here.”

Michigan’s cranes make up a growing percentage of the U.S. eastern population which totaled 87,796 in 2012, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). That growing presence on the Michigan landscape is viewed with pleasure and concern in different communities. Birdwatchers enjoy seeing more of them. Farmers increasingly complain about them eating crops. Hunters have asked whether Michigan will open a season for them, and three Michigan Indian tribes have proposed hunting seasons for this fall.

“The tribal take is marginal,” notes Russ Mason, MDNR wildlife division chief. “They have seasons already. It won’t make a difference (to the population).”

A 2012 harvest report by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission reported two Wisconsin cranes were killed during Great Lakes tribal seasons that year. Subsistence harvests are far smaller than non-tribal sport harvests according to Luukkonen, who has compared waterfowl harvests for both groups. The bigger question, he says, is whether Michigan is ready for a Sandhill Crane hunting season. He thinks not. Continue reading

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Best Places To See Fall Colors Around Grand Rapids

Rivers in the area are a great place to see fall color. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Autumn color is always a spectacle in Kent County. The countryside – with its hills and valleys – becomes a living canvas splashed with color. It’s a great time to get out on area roads, rivers and trails and enjoy the view from a bike, kayak, or on foot.  If you are looking for good places to see fall color in the area, check out my latest story on the City of Grand Rapids Blog called Experience GR Blog.

Read more:  Best Places To See Fall Colors Around Grand Rapids.

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Study: Asian carp in Lake Erie wouldn’t hurt perch, walleyes

At Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, an invasive Asian carp leaps high out of the water to escape biologists’ nets. (Steve Hillebrand/USFWS)

At Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, an invasive Asian carp leaps high out of the water to escape biologists’ nets. (Steve Hillebrand/USFWS)

By Howard Meyerson

Grand Rapids, MI – A new study published in the Journal of Conservation Biology reports the combined conclusions of a panel of U.S. and Canadian fisheries experts that bighead and silver carp would have little negative effect on Lake Erie perch and walleye populations if they got into Lake Erie and became established.

The study authors say it is also possible that the presence of Asian carp could boost perch and walleye populations.

“One reason yellow perch populations might increase is they might use the bighead and silver carp as a food resource when they (the carp) are still small,” reports Marion Wittmann, the study’s lead author and post-doctoral researcher at the University of Notre Dame “Some experts say they would eat the carp eggs and fry.

“Walleyes might also feed on them if the carp are in the same place at the same time – and you have big enough walleyes and small enough carp – but the chance of that overlap is pretty small.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative-funded study aggregated the opinions of 11 scientists, all fisheries or aquatic ecology experts. They are affiliated with institutions like the U.S. Geological Survey, Purdue University, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, University of Guelph, University of Toronto and Committee of Advisors for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, among others. Continue reading

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Regulations proposed to bring back Michigan’s coaster brook trout

Restrictive fishing regulations designed to protect coaster brook trout are expected to allow them to reach trophy size in time. Photo: Troy Zorn, Michigan DNR.

By Howard Meyerson

It will take a while, but in a decade or so, anglers once again may be able to fish for coaster brook trout along Michigan’s Lake Superior shoreline and tributaries.
State fisheries managers are embarking on a long-term experiment to see if the big lake-run brookies can be restored.

“Coasters are part of our natural heritage. They are a native species and a beautiful fish,” said Troy Zorn, a fisheries research biologist at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Marquette Fisheries Research Station. He is the author of a proposal that will go before the Natural Resources Commission in October.

“This is an opportunity to try to restore a unique trophy fishery to anglers in the state,” Zorn said. “We’re proposing restrictive regulations for eight (Upper Peninsula) streams. It will affect about 35 miles of river; about 23 of those miles have brook trout.” Continue reading

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