Column: Thanks to Michigan, Indiana has brown troutApril 17, 2018
By Brandon Butler
Good neighbors are a blessing, and Indiana has them all around. We’ve worked collectively with neighboring states for decades to manage Lake Michigan. A collaborative process has ensured the species anglers are most interested in thrive. Thanks to Michigan, Hoosier anglers should experience good brown trout fishing on the “big lake” for the foreseeable future.
Indiana is known for Skamania steelhead — they’re our bartering chips. Skamania are the unique strain of summer-migrating steelhead that Indiana has developed in southern Lake Michigan. Steelhead migrate up tributary streams creating exciting fishing opportunities.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has been stocking salmon and trout into Lake Michigan since the early 1960s. They began stocking brown trout in 2002. Historically, Indiana has traded Skamania steelhead to Illinois for brown trout. But Illinois has had production shortages this year, so we had to look north of the border to Michigan, who has agreed to provide 40,000 brown trout. They’ll arrive as 6-inch fingerlings.
In a Department of Natural Resources press release, Lake Michigan fisheries biologist with the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife Brian Breidert said, “This type of cooperation is a great way to ensure the mutual success of all states managing Lake Michigan.”
The majority of the brown trout will be stocked directly into Lake Michigan, with 30,000 fish to be released at the East Chicago marina. Trail Creek, a tributary running into Lake Michigan in Michigan City is receiving 10,000. There are 10 public fishing accesses along Trail Creek.
Along with brown trout, an increased number of Chinook salmon will be stocked in Lake Michigan this year. Up from 60,000, closer to 75,000 chinooks will also be stocked in 2018. The increase is to offset a reduction in fall steelhead stockings, because those fall fish have not survived as well as expected. Coho salmon stockings won’t change this year.
“These stocking alterations will continue to provide a diverse fishery, while maintaining an appropriate predator-prey balance to ensure the long-term health of the lake for Hoosier anglers into the future,” Breidert said.
According to a guide published by the DNR called “Fishing Northwest Indiana’s Lake Michigan Shoreline and Tributaries”, Summer-run Skamania steelhead return to area streams from July, and sometimes as early as mid-June through the winter months and spawn from mid-February to March. Winter-run steelhead return beginning in mid-late October, with the bulk of the return in February and March. Winter-run steelhead spawn from March to mid-April.
Lake Michigan is not without her problems. She is an ever-changing ecosystem, with over 180 non-native species having been introduced in her waters since the 1800s. Many of those non-natives, such as the trout and salmon we anglers covet, are welcome additions. Others, like the zebra mussel and goby, have caused problems. Today, the biggest fear is the possibility of Asian carp reaching Lake Michigan.
Asian carp is a generic term used to group eight species of heavy-bodied cyprinid fish native to Asia but now swimming in U.S. waters. They are threatening to invade the Great Lakes. If they do, a chain of events could unfold that leads to the demise of native fish species, crushing the commercial and recreational fishing industries of the Great Lakes. The long term effects could be catastrophic.
Indiana has the smallest share of Lake Michigan, with just 43 miles of shoreline and 224 square miles of water. But location is everything, and we have the southern tip. Water warms early and fish flock to the area. If you’re an Indiana angler who has never taken advantage of our incredible Lake Michigan fishing opportunities, then you owe it to yourself to commit to taking a trip. The brown trout, steelhead, salmon, smallmouth and perch fishing is too good, and too close to home, to ignore.
See you down the trail…
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