More Chinook, better quality coho, but no Skamania for the Little Calumet River system.
That is the 2020 Indiana stocking plan outlined by Department of Natural Resources officials before a gathering of 45 interested anglers at Red Mill County Park on Thursday.
Another public meeting will be held today in East Chicago. The Hoosier Coho Club will host an open meeting with the DNR at 4 p.m. on Feb. 8 at the Michigan City Fish & Game Club.
Biologist Ben Dickinson emphasized the 2020 plan is an interim strategy.
“This is what anglers wanted when we discussed Chinook cuts in 2016,” Dickinson said. “We’re going back to three (Chinook) stocking sites we promised (if the predator/prey ratio improved). But, we’re here to listen to what you want to see in the future.”
Dickinson explained a wealth of angler effort and catch rate data as well as the hatchery logistics that led to the 2020 plan before engaging questions and concerns of fellow anglers. He also kept the discussion specific to Indiana waters, not other states, nor the St. Joseph River.
For several years prior to 2017, Indiana stocked 200,000-plus Chinook split among East Chicago, Little Calumet River and Trail Creek. Following Lake Michigan Committee (LMC) recommendations that slashed lake-wide Chinook stocking 2017, Indiana went to a goal of 75,000 total Chinook released in alternate year in Trail and the Little Cal.
Following a boost in prey (alewife) numbers the last couple of years, due in part to Chinook stocking reductions, the LMC “allowed” Indiana an increase of 87,000 Chinook equivalents.
In the entire Lake Michigan stocking scheme, a Chinook equivalent is the impact or relative consumption each species has on the alewife population. One Chinook equals 3.2 coho, 2.4 steelhead, 2.3 lake trout or 2.2 brown trout.
Indiana achieved the 225,000 Chinook plan for 2020 by reducing or eliminating poorly performing fall fingerling coho and Skamania and replacing many of them with better returning yearlings.
Most important were the bottom line figures of what anglers get back from the various stockings.
Creel survey information put Chinook returns to Indiana anglers at a miserable one-half of one percent while yearling coho and yearling Skamania get caught at a rate of better than four percent. Fall-fingerlings (smaller size when released) coho and steelhead performed similar to Chinook.
As for discussion, Chinook options for the future included status quo which may not make a lot of sense due to such small returns to each site.
Putting the entire Chinook quota in one location to improve odds of catching seemed to gain some traction. Perhaps centrally located at Burns Harbor/Little Cal system. Rotating the entire stock from site to site gained less favor.
A third option was to discontinue Chinook in favor of more Skamania or coho. A few participants liked, but others wanted to maintain the opportunity for a trophy-sized fish, albeit chances are slim.
Temporarily holding Chinook fingerlings in net pens for the possibility of better returns was talked about.
It was noted the spring and summer boat fishery for Chinook, as well as coho, is for salmon almost exclusively originating elsewhere than Indiana.
Reducing Skamania stockings from 30,000 to zero in the Little Cal system seemed a bigger issue. In 2020, 90,000 yearling Skamania will be stocked in Trail.
The big positive is Skamania are available nearly 12 months of the year while providing stream, shoreline and boat opportunities.
“Skamania are the flagship of Indiana’s stocking program,” Dickinson said, adding; “this was a very hard decision, but there is 14 times the effort on Trail than Salt (Creek and the Little Cal system).”
Warmer water temps in June, July and August on the Little Cal system often stall Skamania while the temperature block doesn’t occur nearly as often on Trail. However, halting the upstream surge of Skamania can produce exceptional fishing along the lakefront provided conditions aren’t too warm.
Anglers also pointed out Trail and the Michigan City pier are over-saturated with anglers.
Dickinson noted the fall salmon as well as the winter and spring steelhead fishery on the Little Cal system produced better than Trail. Thus, coho and winter-run ‘steelies’ will be stocked at around 60 percent Little Cal and 40 percent Trail. Goals are 72,000 winter steelhead and 90,000 coho for the Little Cal with 48,000 winter-runs and 65,000 coho going in Trail.
Again, the DNR considers 2020 stockings to be interim, subject to the wishes of anglers and the logistics of the hatcheries.
Fish of the Year
Local anglers recorded several extremely impressive Indiana Fish of the Year in 2019.
Ron Ryba topped the state with a 31.8-inch walleye from the Michigan City harbor. Danny Lunn registered a 42.2-inch Chinook caught in Salt Creek, Jason Speakman landed a 35.5-inch brown trout from a boat near Michigan City and Ken Ryan plucked a 12-inch redear sunfish from Hudson Lake.
To view the list of all 2019 winners, see: https://secure.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/files/fw-fish_of_the_year.pdf.
For more information on Indiana Fish of the Year program, see: https://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3577.htm
The North American Ice Fishing Circuit event scheduled for Feb. 7-9 in LaPorte is canceled. They will be back in 2021, provided there is safe ice.
Feb. 15-16 is a free fishing weekend in Michigan. No license is required.