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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A rich fishing ground right at our back door

May 20, 2004

BY ERIC SHARP
FREE PRESS OUTDOORS WRITER

If fish had a rogues' gallery, these pug-uglies would be near the top of the list -- three muskellunge 44-49 inches long, glaring up from a tank on the research vessel Channel Catfish.

Each would have qualified for a state Department of Natural Resources master angler award had it been caught by a sportfisherman. But these muskies swam into a DNR trap net on Anchor Bay and must suffer the indignity of being measured, weighed and scraped for a scale sample. Then they were dumped unceremoniously over Channel Cat's side to brood upon the wisdom of avoiding nets in the future.

The net yielded 16 fish species that researchers and volunteers counted, measured and pitched back over the side one recent day. Before the fish were returned to the water, a few scales were removed from the bass and walleyes so their age could be determined. Each was fitted with a numbered metal jaw tag that will allow scientists to track their movement if they are caught again, either in a net or by anglers.

"The tag data will be extended over a long period of time," said Mike Thomas, a fisheries research biologist at the DNR's Lake St. Clair station on Anchor Bay. "We need at least five years of information to get good data on the way these fish are (caught) and their mortality rates. We get a good number of returns on the walleye tags. We're finding that a lot of them go up the St. Clair River to Lake Huron."

But most of the information doesn't come from fish caught in the nets.

"We rely on anglers for the reports because the number of fish we handle are a drop in the bucket compared to the number caught by fishermen," Thomas said. "The number of tagged fish we recover at the nets is almost nil. But with the help of the anglers, our return on walleye tags from fish they catch is 8-10 percent. The bass tag returns are a lot lower, about six-tenths of one percent."

The lower return rate on bass tags might be more a result of catch-and-release fishing, which nearly all bass anglers practice.

Channel Catfish motored slowly over flat waters muffled in fog, the marker floats on the the nets appearing on the radar screen long before they could be seen by skipper Roy Beasley. Aboard were a crew of DNR biologists and technicians and Tony Virga of Macomb Township, a member of the Michigan-Ontario Muskie Club. He's one of the volunteers the DNR recruits to help the biologists.

They put out nets about 100 yards long.

"Pulling the nets isn't a problem on a day like this, when there's not much wind and the water is flat," Thomas said. "But on the kinds of days we've had lately, with the wind at 20 knots, it sometimes takes six of us to get the nets up to the side.

"What we're trying to do with the trap net surveys and some trawl surveys we do at other times of the year is get an assessment of the fish populations in the lake. The last serious assessment work was done in the '80s, and Lake St. Clair has seen some big changes since then."

The primary changes were the arrival of two exotic species from Europe -- zebra mussels, which made dramatic improvements in water quality, and the round goby, a small fish that is a predator and competitor with native species. The goby also provides a rich food source for many game fish.

A lot of people like the changes. Lake St. Clair isn't just the best urban fishery in North America today, it's one of the top 10 freshwater sportfishing sites anywhere, and it's next to a metropolitan area of 4.5 million people.

Sportfish found in abundance include largemouth and smallmouth bass, rock bass, muskellunge, northern pike, walleyes, channel catfish, yellow perch, white bass and pumpkinseed sunfish and bluegills.

DNR creel surveys estimated that fishermen caught 222,000 walleyes and 498,000 yellow perch last year from the Michigan waters of Lake St. Clair and the adjacent St. Clair and Detroit rivers. Most of those fish ended up on dinner tables.

At the same time, anglers caught 186,000 legal-sized smallmouth bass (14 inches or longer), and 92 percent of the bass were released to fight another day. The survey was taken of anglers who returned to launch sites.

The DNR study has shown that anglers are wise to release bass to maintain a trophy fishing grounds. Scale studies from the 2003 survey showed that 20-inch smallmouths, the true six-pounders, average 11 years old.

The muskellunge is another fish that is often caught but rarely killed on Lake St. Clair. The DNR thinks this catch-and-release ethic is the primary reason the lake has produced more than 50 fish a year that qualified for the master angler minimum of 42 inches for seven straight years.

Although catfish aren't often targeted by Michigan anglers, the trap net survey has shown that Anchor Bay is loaded with trophy-sized channel cats. The average caught in the nets was 6.7 pounds.

The day ended with 255 fish crossing Channel Cat's deck, including 148 rock bass.

As the boat headed for the barn, Thomas swept an arm across the horizon and said, "It's a great fishery for so many different species, and yet it has this huge city right on its doorstep. I can't think of any other place like it."

h2o<----says how lucky i am.
 

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Two statements really stand out in this article:

"The lower return rate on bass tags might be more a result of catch-and-release fishing, which nearly all bass anglers practice."

and:

"At the same time, anglers caught 186,000 legal-sized smallmouth bass (14 inches or longer), and 92 percent of the bass were released to fight another day."

Sure sounds like there would be a huge problem if the pond opened early for CIR (dripping with sarcasm)....
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I'd say it's proof like that that's making them open catch and release earlier. Awesome!!!!!!!

h2o<---says it is a good article.
 

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Anchor bay which is loaded with 6+ lb average channel cats that see zero fishing pressure???? I need to learn how to catch those babies!!!
 

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OMG, you arn't telling us that the DNR was practicing "net and release" durring the spawn are you?
 

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"We rely on anglers for the reports"

This is a DNR study that states this. Yet, they are trying so terribly hard to eliminate the anglers being able to fish and provide such reports. Maybe they will then have "valid" data to support the elimination of bass tournaments in Michigan.


DNR = Does Nothing Right
 
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