By Howard Meyerson
Trout fishing opened on designated trout streams Saturday and anglers were out celebrating on iconic trout waters, such as the Pere Marquette, AuSable and Big Manistee rivers. But a group of Ann Arbor area anglers plans to wait until May to celebrate the creation of the state’s newest trout-fishing stream.
The Ann Arbor chapter of Trout Unlimited is holding its inaugural Dexter Trout Fest from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 30 in Dexter. You might have heard of the National Trout Festival in Kalkaska, which celebrated its 79th anniversary this weekend.
The five-day event is held near many of Michigan’s best trout waters. Now, there will be a trout festival in Dexter — and with good reason.
Why Mill Creek?
Ann Arbor TU has partnered with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in a six-year effort to build a trout fishery in Mill Creek, a tributary of the Huron River, which runs through Dexter.
It is, perhaps, a surprising location to consider a trout fishery. Most southern Michigan streams are too warm. But AATU members discovered the creek has all the right conditions for trout.
“It’s going to be our first official annual trout festival,” said Bill Phillips, the TU chapter’s lead for the Mill Creek trout project. “It’s going to be called the ‘Art and Rhythms of Trout Fishing.’ There will be games for kids and young adults and fly-tying demos and casting demonstrations.”
Better yet, there will be good-sized trout in the creek. The experimental fishery there is a remarkable development, and anglers who know of it are catching nice brown trout there.
“A lot of people are becoming aware of it and are enjoying the fishing,” said Jeff Braunscheidel, senior fisheries biologist with the DNR’s Lake Erie Management Unit. “For this initial experiment, we are not stocking to establish a population, but we are looking to establish a fishery.”
The DNR agreed, he said, to annually stock Mill Creek with Gilchrist Creek brown trout for six years beginning this spring. It will get 2,200 trout each year from 5.5 to 7 inches long. The agency also planted 1,500 trout in 2014. Ann Arbor TU also will plant 500 trout annually. That’s above and beyond the 14,800 the chapter has planted since 2011.
AATU members have spent hundreds of hours and $18,000 to determine whether Mill Creek was cold enough to sustain a trout fishery where, historically, there was none.
“This is still in the experimental stage,” said Mike Mouradian, AATU president. “We’ve been stocking the creek for four years around the watershed to see if the fish could survive. Now that we have seen they can, we’re in the quantitative stage rather than the qualitative stage. People are catching fish (trout) all the time there.”
Where it began
The idea to create a Mill Creek fishery began with Tom Edsall, a retired U.S. Geological Survey fisheries scientist and AATU member. Edsall recognized stream conditions would change once the former Mill Creek Dam was removed in 2008, returning the creek to its natural, flowing condition.
Edsall and others conducted ongoing water temperature studies that showed much of it was cold enough to support trout. The chapter then approached the DNR, seeking permission to stock it with Bitterroot Wild Rose brown trout as an experiment to see if they would survive.
Establishing a partnership
They did, and well-enough to justify eventually re-approaching the state agency to ask that they become a partner in the project. The DNR and TU chapter now plan to conduct ongoing surveys of the fishery.
“The project is moving along nicely, and 18-inch browns are a reality,” Edsall said. “To our delight, the limited data we could obtain from electroshocking and hook and line sampling showed the trout spread from the stocking sites and survived over the summer and grew about 3 inches from spring to fall.”
AATU members said they would like to create a self-sustaining trout fishery in Mill Creek. Waters far upstream are cold enough, and some spawning behaviors have been observed, but upstream public access is limited.
That is something they plan to work to improve. In Dexter, however, where public access is good, the waters can get too warm on very hot summers. Bryan Burroughs, executive director for Michigan Trout Unlimited, said a put-grow-and-take fishery might be the initial outcome until more work is done. He lauded the project and the TU chapter’s initiative.
“They stepped up and did the assessments and found a place that was way colder than anyone thought and colder than the state predicted. That is really cool.” Burroughs said.
For more details about the Mill Creek Trout Fishery, see annarbortu.org.