After flopping around like a fish out of water, the Lake Michigan Committee appears to have settled on a 27 percent reduction in lake-wide chinook stockings, according to a news release this week. This is better news for local big-lake fans.
If you recall, back at the end of June, the LMC announced a whopping 62 percent lake-wide reduction in chinook salmon to take effect in spring 2017. The cuts essentially eliminated all of Indiana's chinook stocking due to diminishing returns on cost and space.
In August, right here in Michigan City, after blow-back from anglers, LMC representatives said the figures would be adjusted to a 50 percent reduction with cuts in lake trout, accounting for the difference in predator reduction. And, most important locally, Indiana would be capable of reinstituting a token stocking of chinook.
Now, after an end run by Wisconsin anglers and their elected officials to pressure the WDNR to make zero chinook cuts, the LMC has compromised to the 27 percent, with Wisconsin taking no cuts and making up the difference in their hatcheries by chopping brown trout stocking by something called "chinook equivalents."
Indiana will have a goal of stocking 60,000 chinook in 2017, which is down from 200,000 per year since 2013.
The LMC is comprised of fishery officials from Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin and the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, and is responsible for cooperatively managing Lake Michigan fish.
Extensive research has indicated the lake's prey-fish base, which use to be primarily alewives, is at an all-time low. Major reductions in predators, primarily chinook due to their high consumption of alewives was warranted by the LMC.
After scary-bad fishing for all species and very poor returns of chinook to spawning streams in 2015, anglers had to agree the big lake was ailing, perhaps past the point of sustaining decent fishing.
The main culprit in the decline of forage fish is the proliferation of quagga mussels (trillions) which filter the life out of the bottom of the food chain. Over-stocking of predators compounded the problem.
Then 2016 happened with outstanding fishing in a few spots around the lake, particularly along the Wisconsin coast. Anglers began harping to hold off on the chinook cuts, or if something had to be done, slash stockings of much less-loved lake trout.
The bottom line is the LMC appears to be accommodating the wants of the angling community while meeting its goal of sustaining a diverse salmon and trout fishery along with maintaining its' commitment to lake trout rehabilitation.
Instead of reducing chinook by 62 percent (900,000 fingerlings), predator stocks will now be reduced by 900,000 "chinook equivalents" which will be comprised of a 27 percent reduction in chinook stockings, 12 percent lake trout and 50 percent brown trout (Wisc. only). Additional lake trout cuts are to be made in 2018.
Because chinook eat a lot more alewives that other species, the impact of one chinook on alewives is roughly equivalent to 2.3 lake trout, 2.2 brown trout, 2.4 steelhead or 3.2 coho. Chinook stocking quotas for 2017 will be 810,000 for Wisconsin, 300,000 for Michigan, 150,000 for Illinois and 60,000 for Indiana.
As mentioned in earlier releases about chinook cuts, the LMC is adamant stocking levels will be increased when the forage base can sustain.
And two other points have been pretty well documented — regardless of where they're stocked, chinook roam and are caught throughout the lake for a couple seasons before returning to stocking sites. Also, natural reproduction accounts for over 60 percent of chinook caught in the open lake, so a 27 percent reduction of the 40 percent of stockers may only show up as a 10 percent reduction in the creel.
Lake Michigan fishing is a lot more dependent on weather, successful forage spawn and survival along with multiple lesser reasons than stocking numbers.
• To the hunt: Indiana's wild turkey-firearms season opens Wednesday and continues through Oct. 30. Turkey-archery is also open through Oct. 30, then again Dec. 3 to Jan. 1.
Waterfowl season opens Oct. 22 with ducks legal in the North Zone through Dec. 11 and again Dec. 24 to Jan.1. Canada geese are legit Oct. 22 to Nov. 20 and Dec. 10 to Feb. 12.
Visit www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild for complete regulations.
• Mopping up: A fly-fishing story in the Wall Street Journal about tying strands of mop on a hook and catching lots of trout provides an interesting read. Check it out at http://www.wsj.com/articles/fly-fishing-renegades-are-cleaning-upwith-kitchen-mops-1476450649.