Upcoming DNR Fish Netting

By Judy Nugent - November 1, 2006
The Lake Michigan fisheries netting and surveying has already started for 2005. Yellow Perch, Steelhead, Lake Trout, and Walleye are all on the agenda, making this spring very busy for the DNR.

Underway already by the end of last year, the first species to be completed this year was the Yellow Perch. Since the 1980's, perch populations have declined more than 90% and the DNR has been searching for answers. Wind and wave action along will low food availability and increased predation are blamed for this decline. In the past, studies have shown that a low population of perch is still able to produce a large number of eggs. Yet survival from the egg and larvae stage to the fingerling stage is poor.

In mid February the DNR finished their mesh netting of Yellow Perch. They had hoped to be done earlier, but difficult weather hampered their efforts. Now they have finished their five lifts, and the results are promising. According to Brad Eggold, DNR Lake Michigan Southeast Region fisheries supervisor, they had a respectable catch of around 600 perch. By comparison, in the last two years, the results of winter lifts yielded less than 100 fish. This survey is different than the egg and larva samples that are usually collected in the summer. Some of you may remember that this past September the DNR found .4 young perch on average in a 100 foot stretch. The winter lifts just completed gather perch that are not segregated by sex or size, thereby accounting for the higher number of caught fish.

It appears that the perch population is far from it high numbers of decades past, but recovery may still be possible. DNR agency personnel from the four states bordering Lake Michigan plus scientists from selected universities make up the Yellow Perch Task Group. Hopefully with more research we will see those higher levels return and this year's respectable catch provides some hope for the future. In March the DNR will get the Root River weir up and running to survey Steelhead. With the spring thaw the Steelhead will swim up several Lake Michigan tributaries in an attempt to spawn. The Root River is home to a DNR weir that allows biologists to count and study the health and population of the fish that return. There are three different strains that that come into the river at various times. This is a result of different genetic makeup. The Skamania enter in the fall. Relatives of the Steelhead of the western rivers like the Columbia, these fish are genetically programmed for a 1,000 mile journey and subsequently enter the short Wisconsin tributaries earlier than necessary. In early March the Chamber Creek strain will enter the river depending on temperature and water flow. A week or two later the Gannaka strain will come in. These fish can be as long as 30 - 32 inches and may reach 16 pounds by the time they are five years old. They are capable of spawning two or three times in their lives if they can avoid the angler's hook. The DNR stocked 500,000 last year and will be surveying and monitoring all strains during this year's Steelhead run.

In April the DNR has its Lake Trout lifts scheduled. In these lifts the DNR is looking at the health of the lake. Specifically they are counting wound scaring rates from lamprey. The presence of lamprey is an ongoing issue and from the scaring they can determine the number of adult lamprey in the system. If scaring rates rise, the DNR can step up their attack on lamprey and lower their numbers.

Another fish survey that is scheduled is for the walleyes on the Milwaukee River. When they perform the survey will depend on water temperature, usually some time in April. This is conducted with electro shocking equipment and will measure length, weight, and other data from the captured fish. Stocked fish are recognized from a fin clip or injected plastic marker. This allows the DNR to plot growth and survivability, as well as determine if there is any natural reproduction. The DNR has been stocking 10,000 walleye each year since 1995. The current draft plan is to continue this stocking for the next five years.

All of these activities will keep the DNR busy until summer. Hopefully after all the data has been compiled, the DNR will find a healthy lake full of fish for us to enjoy.

Author Judy Nugent
Judy Nugent
Judy Nugent has been writing for several years. Her work can be found in Wisconsin Outdoor News, Wisconsin Outdoor Journal, Wisconsin Sportsman, Midwest Outdoors, Fly Fisherman Magazine and Snowshoe Magazine among others. She is also on the TV show OUTDOOR WISCONSIN. Judy has experience in radio with the show Great American Outdoor Trails where she does a weekly segment called Women on the Trail.