Grand River Coho: Fewer stocked at Lansing, more downstream

Jumping the dam at 4th St. on the Grand River

By Howard Meyerson

Lansing, MI –A state decision to reduce the number of coho salmon  stocked in the Grand River at Lansing,  while increasing stocking downstream at Lyons, is just fine with Joe Mull, the manager of Grand River Bait and Tackle, a Lansing-based fishing outfitter that caters to salmon fisherman and other anglers.

In fact, he thinks it’s a good idea.

“Not only will more fish get downstream (to Lake Michigan), but more may survive to come back upstream. I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Mull said of the change that took place in April when state hatchery officials planted just 50,000 yearling Coho in the Grand River at Lansing rather than 295,000 as in the past.

State fisheries managers announced the plan a year ago; their thinking is that fewer young smolts will die from predation or hydro-electric dams while making the long trip down to Lake Michigan.

“We weren’t seeing a lot of fish return to Lansing,” said Jay Wesley, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources southern Lake Michigan management unit supervisor. “There is quite a predatory gauntlet upriver and we have been losing them to the Portland and Webber dams.

“Our goal isn’t to reduce the number of fish in Lansing, but to increase it,” Wesley said of the plan expected to boost coho smolt survival.

Fewer than one percent return

Less than one percent of the stocked coho salmon have made the journey back upstream to spawn. State officials analyzed salmon passage at Webber dam and found .09 percent returned from Lake Michigan in 2001 while .06 and .07 percent returned in 2002 and 2008 respectively

Yearling coho have been preferred to younger fish. They are heartier and better able to survive. However, they are more expensive raise in the hatchery for a year. The Grand River coho stocking effort is the second largest in the state, costing $626,850. Only the Platte River gets more fish  because it is the brood-stock river for Michigan’s coho program.

The new stocking pattern implemented this spring shifted the bulk of the Grand River’s allocation downstream to Lyons where 240,000 were planted instead of 20,000 in years prior. Another 25,000 were stocked in the Rogue River in Kent County.

“I think it’s a fantastic move,” said Bob Strek, a Grand Rapids angler and member of the Grand Rapids chapter of the Michigan Steelheaders. “If they are up in the Rogue fishermen will be there. There is a strong chance of lower mortality and that will benefit everyone.”

Little to no impact at Lansing

Mull expects the change will have little to no impact on his Lansing bait and tackle business. Salmon fishing, he says, is a one to two-month flurry. He sends customers elsewhere already.

“The fish caught in Lansing are really dark,” Mull said. “That lasts about a month. We send people downstream to Lyons and Grand Ledge. There are better numbers of fish there and the fish are much fresher. Lyons is only about 12 minutes from here.”

Wesley said the DNR has not studied the “outmigration mortality” that occurs with coho on the Grand River. No hard numbers exist. It is assumed they die due to predation and hydro-power dams. Monitoring, he said, will continue at Webber dam and some will take place on the Rogue River and at Lyons.

“This is a trial and error thing,” Wesley said. “We have been doing the same thing for 20 years and haven’t seen much change. We see this as an opportunity to boost the run and survival down to Lake Michigan. We expect it will be a benefit for Lake Michigan anglers and other anglers in the Grand River system.”

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© Copyright 2013 Howard Meyerson

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