A season on the brink? Or just a blink?
Lake Michigan fishing at Michigan City has been the worst in memory. Salmon, steelhead and perch catches have been about one-third of what anglers expect.
And, while the catching has turned around quickly before, the long-term outlook isn't great.
At the behest of local charter captains, Indiana Department of Natural Resource officials have agreed to meet in a public forum at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Skwiat American Legion Post, 121 Skwiat Legion Ave., in Michigan City.
All concerned anglers are encouraged to attend.
Keep in mind the DNR biologists are on your side. Like us, when fishing is good they're happy. Conversely, when catching is bad, they can get pretty aggravated, too.
"We'll explain what we've done and why," chief Lake Michigan biologist Brian Briedert, said. "We'll listen to the fishermen, we've tweaked things in the past."
It's important to keep the local fishing in perspective. Even when trolling 10 to 15 miles offshore at Michigan City, we're only sampling a smidgen of Lake Michigan.
Elsewhere, catches have been very good at times. East Chicago trollers, on the western side of Indiana's one percent of Lake Michigan, had great salmon fishing in June and July. St. Joseph, Mich. guys are having their best perch season in decades.
Still, there is plenty of baffling stuff going on which biologists have yet to explain.
Foremost, if there is an alewife shortage and tag studies show Chinook roaming from one end of lakes' Michigan and Huron to the other, you would think wherever you find baitfish there would be salmon.
During May and June (including a salmon-less Classic) there was a plethora of alewives and cold water inside 60 feet of water, but very few salmon with them. Last weekend, typical of other angler's trips this summer, I cleaned lake trout with five and six alewives in their stomachs, but never touched a silver fish. If conditions are prime enough for lakers to fill their bellies, where are the salmon?
Similarly, I've spent many days during May through July smearing flies and gnats off my body, but the bug-eaters — coho and steelies — have been scarce and scrawnier than ever. There are still two-pound coho and snake-shaped, four and five-pound Skamania out there.
The plethora of insects and their larvae, along with waterborne food like fish-hook fleas and zooplankton are near the bottom of the food-chain which should have received a boost from the flood of nutrients during the recent three-foot rise in lake levels. There seems to plenty of life in the lake, but young-of-the-year alewives and perch can't survive?
And where is the Skamania steelhead return?
Relatedly, most anglers have given up hope of ever enjoying a substantial fall-Chinook run. Both the steelhead and Chinook returns are things the Indiana DNR has some control over.
And why are lake trout, a federal boondoggle if there ever was one, allowed to perpetuate?
Nobody really wants them at the expense of fewer salmon, but they are the most-stocked, longest-living and greatest consumers of baitfish (in aggregate) in Lake Michigan.
The lake trout program continues to cost taxpayers millions with barely a sliver of the monetary benefits of a thriving salmon fishery.
Scarily, research has show that while alewives appear to be key for Chinook survival, they are bad for lake trout reproduction. It's improbable Chinook and lake trout will continue to coexist.
On the positive note, there is always hope.
The year after John Feinstein's book "Season on the Brink" implying the demise of Indiana basketball was published, Bob Knight turned things around and won a third national championship.
On the other hand, he was mostly right about Knight in the long run.
Mike McKee writes a weekly outdoors column for The News-Dispatch. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.