Feb 2012 Coldwater Committee Report

February 6, 2012 – Lansing

The Coldwater Committee met again for the first time in 2012 in Lansing on Feb 6. The meeting was facilitated by Brian Gunderman, MDNR.

A few quick business items were addressed, like approval of the meeting minutes and adoption of the terms of reference for the committee. The committee agreed that people’s names would be attached to anything that was said in the meeting minutes. All agreed it was good to know “who said what.”

The first “real” item on the agenda was a review of campground surveys conducted on both the Upper Manistee River in the new gear restricted water by the DNR, and a couple of parallel surveys conducted by Trout Unlimited (TU), on the Pigeon and Manistee.

The DNR surveyed campers who had camped at either of the campgrounds on the newly restricted stretch of the upper Manistee from 2009 through 2011 – restrictions began in 2011.

The DNR received some letters with the survey responses. Some strongly praised the new regulations, others sternly opposed them. 13% of respondents said they would camp less, while a greater number said they would camp more. I forget the exact number; I think it was around 30% that said they would camp more.

Takeaways from DNR Survey:
– A few raised concerns about kids and gear restrictions, even some who were self-described “exclusive fly-fishermen.”

– More work to be done to get a final tally and see if restrictions seemed to make the campground busier or less busy.

– Based on early returns there will be no evidence that restrictions drove away people in mass, and therefore restrictions are likely to remain.

Trout Unlimited’s Campground Survey results were presented by Kristin Thomas of TU as Bryan Burroughs was away on vacation and missed the meeting.

TU’s surveys began in mid-May and ran through September. A few interesting results turned up.
– Only 34% of campers were actually fishing and the “primary motivation” for camping was fishing for only 17% of those surveyed.

– When anglers were asked their preferred method of fishing, roughly 50-55% said flies. 20-25% said artificial lures, and the remainder said bait. Of course the percentages preferring flies and artificial lures were higher on the Manistee, where gear restrictions were in place.

The second discussion was surrounding how to better mark the boundaries for the gear restricted sections in both the guide and on the maps available online. I believe the committee agreed it would be best to add GPS coordinates (at least for the ambiguous boundaries – like “sheep ranch” or “high banks”) and to add some sort of boundary markers to the maps as well as GPS “ticks” along the sides. There was also discussion about breaking the color-coded maps out in further detail. I would like to see this happen, but like everything, it may be a matter of available resources on the project, so we’ll see.

We then briefly discussed Brook Trout bag limits in the UP again. At this time we mainly reviewed what we had covered at the two previous meetings last year. We then heard of the DNR’s plan to take the proposal to increase the bag limit to 10 brook trout out to the public in a series of “town hall” meetings during this spring/summer. When feedback from the public was compiled from those meetings, it will be made available to the committee.

After that we talked briefly about Steelhead. The only regulation changes proposed for Steelhead at this time are to lower the daily bag limit to 1 Steelhead on the Little Manistee and the Platte, both below the weirs. The reasoning is that the weir on the Little Manistee is the location that the DNR depends on to get all of their eggs/sperm for the hatchery and stocking program for the entire state. Returns have been low enough the last few years, including a near shortage in 2010, that the biologist in charge requested the limit be lowered. The Platte is currently be groomed as a backup location to take eggs, in the case that there’s a shortage on the Little Manistee, so the same regulations are being applied there as well.

There is still some discussion about mass marking of Steelhead, which would allow fishermen to distinguish all planted fish from wild fish, but at this time the funding for mass marking of Steelhead is delayed/unavailable. Committee members and DNR staff are hopeful that marking will be a reality in the near future.

After lunch the committee switched gears and a presentation on a potential leader-length restriction was presented. The proposal was for a 4 foot maximum leader length from weight to hook. This is the same law that New York has currently and this proposal was modeled after that. From the way I understood the presentation, the main motivation is to cut down on “flossing” which is a technique where fish are commonly “snagged in the mouth.” Since the hook is in the mouth, but the fish is not actively taking the offering, it tends to fall in the “gray” area of what would be considered snagging and legally hooked.

This topic got a fair amount of discussion from the committee; many thought it was a great idea, others didn’t like it much. Almost everyone agreed that “flossing” was an issue, they just differed on how to best prevent it. This topic will get some more air time at a future meeting as we simply ran out of time to talk through different options and opinions. Nothing is imminent here.

The final topic was a discussion on opportunities to extend the current trout season. The DNR presented some research on wading on gravel, and historical information on the season in general, and the reason for the closure (spawning and fry emergence).

Just about everyone agreed there were some good reasons to keep the season closed during spawning, which typically takes place between mid-October and December for Brook and Brown trout.

The science appears to be mixed on just how much damage wading would do to the redds after spawning, but in spite of the fact that it might be OK to open up some fishing opportunities prior to April, the DNR is handcuffed by the current regulatory system.

The law only allows 212 miles of gear restricted water. So no there is no real opportunity for an “early C/R season” like they have in Wisconsin and some other states. The additional harvest concerns and potential damage to redds seemed to be enough to close the book on an earlier opener than we already have. Maybe the only available avenue here to explore for additional early season fishing is to hope managers are open to the idea of moving a few more medium and large rivers into Type 4.

That just about concluded the day’s meeting. Topics for future meetings are:
1. The results of the Pere Marquette River Creel Survey
2. Manistee River Campgrounds Cont.
3. Brook Trout U.P. Bag Limit Survey Results and Discussion
4. Lining/Flossing/Leader Length
5. Streamside vegetation and its impact on trout populations
6. Mass Marking Update

Next meeting date is not yet set, but looks like it will likely be in early August. Until then, trout season can’t come quick enough!