By Howard Meyerson
I’ve lost track of how often I have wondered trout fishing on this or that river, how big they are, and how to access the water. Perhaps you too keep a dog-eared copy of Gerth Hendrickson’s original “The Angler’s Guide to Ten Classic Trout Streams in Michigan” near, or the revised version by Jim DuFresne, with 12 streams listed.
I have stacks of references, including faded copies of the Michigan Blue-Ribbon Trout Streams list, assorted river guidebooks by authors like Tom Huggler, Janet Mehl and Bob Linsenman and Steve Nevala – and odd lists collected over the years. There’s little that’s more fun than pouring over a topographic map and putting the pieces together, plotting a strategy and hitting the river, however old the information may be.
While older references don’t tell me about fish populations today, they do help with narrowing down where to go. I’m not a big fan of online fishing boards and forums. Too much junk passes as truth on them. But, as someone who uses digital media and the Internet all the time, I do appreciate a credible source for information.
That’s why I am impressed with the Michigan DNR’s new Stream Fish Population Trend Viewer, an interactive web page recently unveiled on the agency website. It allows trout anglers, in particular, to see where wild brook trout, brown trout and rainbows were found by DNR fisheries surveys along with coho salmon and smallmouth bass. Users are able sort the locations by abundance, length and size and other measures.
The 40 rivers shown have only wild trout. A minimum of 50 had to be found at a survey site to be included. Streams stocked with hatchery trout simply are not listed, according to state fisheries staffers. Stocking, they say, skews the results.
“It was designed initially for fisheries managers,” explains Troy Zorn, a research biologist at the DNR’s Marquette Fisheries Research Station. “We maintain a status and trends inventory (of fish populations) and sample sites repeatedly.
“Managers can look at (the trend viewer) and see trends around the state. For example, if they don’t see any young of the year brown trout (at a particular survey site on a river), they can look at the regional trend and might see reproduction was low across the region, maybe due to high waters.”
Anglers can use the new web application to find rivers with good natural trout
populations of size, say 8 to 11 inches. It can be used to sift-out rivers with low trout abundance – or to make an informed guess about trout streams in the general vicinity of a marked survey station.
“We can’t say with certainty what is going on in the spaces between (the dots that mark survey stations), but we tried to pick rivers that were representative of regions of the state, streams that anglers and managers were interested in,” Zorn said. “Some have Great Lakes access and provide a handle on coho and steelhead runs. Others are landlocked and show resident trout fisheries. The sites are rechecked on a three-year rotation; half are checked three years in a row and then the other half is checked for three years. The color of the dot reflects the most recent survey.”
Anglers who look at the interactive map will find the colors correspond to different values listed on a key that describes whether the size, abundance or age of the trout found is higher or lower than long-term averages.
That lag time may be an issue for some. It means some of the river information is three or four years old. And yes, it would be better if the agency were flush enough to update them all annually. But, in fact, I am glad to see this digital tool online where all can use it. Any and all of the information it contains, after all, is far more current than my 1985 edition of Hendrickson’s book.
This column appears on MLive Outdoors.