By Howard Meyerson
Anglers who fish the Muskegon River for trout are going to get a little extra something this month. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources intends to stock an additional 50,000 brown trout in the waters downstream from Croton Dam.
The fall fingerlings are expected to give the river’s trout fishery a boost. River anglers have been complaining that an entire year-class — the normally abundant 12-inch to 16-inch 2-year-olds — went AWOL this past season.
“This is just a one-shot deal. It’s what’s available (from the hatchery),” noted Scott Heintzelman, the agency’s central Lake Michigan management unit manager. “And given the circumstances it may be a good fit.
“We got calls from anglers that a year-class was missing. And when we did our (spring) walleye egg take, we looked at the trout population and definitely saw the same thing — a bunch of carryover trout (those that survive through the winter) were missing from Croton Dam downstream to Pine Street or Henning Park.
“People said they were still catching some of the larger fish, but the bread-and-butter class from the year before was gone.”
A perfect storm
Heintzelman and others suspect they perished during a low-water event last winter when Consumers Energy was working on problems at its dam, resulting in reduced flow.
That incident happened during a harsh winter when a large influx of fish-eating birds came upstream. No sign of a fish kill was ever found, according to Heintzelman. And the fishing didn’t improve downstream, suggesting they had not moved to another area.
“I live on the river and went out to look at it, and (the flow) was down to 700 CFS (cubic feet per second) when usually it is 1,300 to 1,400 CFS,” said Mark Guzniczak, president of the Muskegon River Fishery and Sporting Alliance. “You could walk across the river, and it was like that for seven to eight hours.
“It was the perfect storm. A number of things came together to put a strain on the fishery. Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake had frozen over, and that pushed fish-eating cormorants and mergansers up river. People witnessed them feeding on fish.”
Guzniczak and others are enthusiastic about the DNR’s decision to stock the river with additional fish this fall.
The agency will stock a hearty Sturgeon River brown trout strain. The river more commonly gets 40,000 Wild Rose brown trout yearlings each year along with 85,000 Eagle Lake rainbow trout yearlings, and 55,000 Michigan steelhead yearlings.
“It was the perfect storm. A number of things came together to put a strain on the fishery.”
“It’s a great opportunity,” Guzniczak said, referring to using the Sturgeon River brown trout. “It’s much less domesticated than Wild Rose and Gilchrist Creek browns. I’d prefer they were yearlings, but planting them at this time of year when trout fishing pressure is minimal and we have solid flows, we will see strong survival.”
Anglers pleased with DNR response
Guzniczak hopes the DNR will consider switching to Sturgeon River trout permanently for the Muskegon River, but acknowledges that little is known yet about how well they will survive and grow there.
Members of his group will be providing the agency with feedback about the strain’s survival and growth. Acting on Alliance’s behalf, a group he formed in September to try to unify the disparate voices of river users, Guzniczak inquired about the possibility of getting the extra Sturgeon River stock.
He had heard they were available and were being used elsewhere. To his pleasure, DNR fisheries managers responded favorably.
“I am absolutely pleased at their responsiveness,” Guzniczak said. “This has been a partnership between the Alliance and the DNR.”
Heintzelman said Wild Rose brown trout will continue to be stocked in their normal numbers next spring. They’ve historically produced a solid fishery that grows very well. The two-year-old rainbow population also disappeared, he said, but there were no extra rainbows available to stock this fall.
“The Wild Rose trout have done well in the Muskegon River,” Heintzelman said. “The river got its full complement of yearling trout last spring. They should be 11 inches to 12 inches (next season). The situation should correct itself within a season or two.”
Appears in MLive Media Group newspapers and MLive Outdoors.