2017-10-05 / Outdoors

Strong salmon runs catch angler interest

By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff


OHIO VISITORS, from left, Paul Lownie, Bob Alexander, Justin Jones and Cory Fibler swap stories after fishing and kayaking down the Crystal River. OHIO VISITORS, from left, Paul Lownie, Bob Alexander, Justin Jones and Cory Fibler swap stories after fishing and kayaking down the Crystal River. Bob Alexander traveled north to catch salmon.

A salmon almost caught him.

“I surprised him,” said Alexander, whose kayak trip down the Crystal River ended at a culvert on County Road 675.

Somewhere in the middle of the dark culvert Alexander’s stealthy kayak touched the tail of the salmon.

“When he jumped, he went right in my face,” Alexander recalled last Thursday afternoon, water still dripping off his head.

Alexander and three other visitors from Ohio didn’t hook into a fish that day on the Crystal, but the previous day they did catch a couple large salmon using spawn bags at the mouth of the river. He estimated that the fish weighed 8-10 pounds.

After the Ohio crew left the culvert, a “local” pulled his vehicle off the road and the driver stared into the river.


STEVE JONES of Ann Arbor casts salmon bags over a small school of salmon. STEVE JONES of Ann Arbor casts salmon bags over a small school of salmon. “They aren’t all salmon,” he finally said. “There are steelhead and browns in here, too.”

Salmon runs along with lake-run brown trout and steelhead are peaking up and down the Lake Michigan shoreline, according to Ed Eisch, fish production program manager for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Salmon runs have been strong, he added, especially for coho in the Platte River.

“This year’s coho run has been, I’m not going to use the word phenomenal, but it’s been really, really strong,” Eisch said.

As of Friday, some 14,203 adult coho salmon had been passed above the weir. A few weeks ago fish had stacked up below the wier waiting to be allowed passage after processed for their eggs and milt, which are combined to artificially begin a year class of fry for planting.


MOST SALMON in the Crystal River have now turned dark and in the month ahead will die after spawning. MOST SALMON in the Crystal River have now turned dark and in the month ahead will die after spawning. “We had fish just piled in there. It’s hard to estimate, but there were 15,000 to 20,000 fish in the river,” he said.

A court order restricts the number of salmon allowed above the weir to 20,000, which requires MDNR personnel to count them as they pass. He said plenty of eggs and milt had already been harvested for the hatchery’s needs, although a few more fish will be allowed to pass and caught upstream by fishermen.

“There are skads of anglers taking advantage of this run. That’s our thing. We’re trying to provide angler opportunities and we’re glad to see so many people out there on the river,” Eisch said.

Even though the Boardman River also is hosting a solid run of salmon of the Chinook variety, Eisch cautioned against taking one year’s results as evidence that Lake Michigan sportfisheries were back to “normal.” Biologists and fishermen have been concerned that the salmon population will crash and not return, as occurred in Lake Huron after the alewife population crashed.

Eisch said Michigan salmon anglers fared well this summer at Wisconsin’s expense, possibly because wind directions pushed warmer temperatures preferred by salmon across Lake Michigan.

“It wasn’t good all over the lake,” he said. “We are having major swings from one year to the next, which are a sign of an unstable system ... I wouldn’t rush to assume that we are out of problems with the predator-to-prey balance,” he said.

The coho spawning run was unusual, too. First, coho have been running a pound or two larger than most years, with several master angler-class coho caught. Eisch knows of some 8-10 pound coho that have been caught, and heard of 14 pounders.

Then spurred by cool temperatures and north winds, salmon moved up the Platte early — before Labor Day. Heavy day use by kayakers, canoeists, tubers and anglers during a hot end to September eventually forced many back into Platte Bay.

They continue to enter the Platte River to spawn, although in fewer numbers.

“It’s good that we saw that strong run this year, but if we are going to be optimistic, we need to be cautiously optimistic,” he said.

Back on the Crystal River with M-22 just a few casts away, Steve Jones of Ann Arbor was tossing spawn bags with no luck at a small school of salmon tucked alongside a culvert. The salmon, which had turned dark, grew perturbed but not upset enough to bite.

“I caught a couple coho the other day in the river,” said Jones, who was staying at the Maple Lane Resort. “It’s still a beautiful day.”

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