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My two cents on local fishing
November 13, 2009 - Ron Deuter
I covered the DNR’s citizen’s advisory council meeting earlier this week. It was the first time I sat in such a meeting. If you enjoy any part of our state's outdoors, you should attend one of these meetings some time. It's a great forum and an excellent way for the DNR to hear our collective voice.
As mentioned in my article about the meeting, the issue of local walleye stocking was discussed.
A longtime area fisherman brought up his specific concern over the walleye population in the Way Dam backwaters. His point was the reason the walleye are smaller and fewer there is because feed in the system has all but disappeared. He mentioned crayfish and perch as two examples.
I too have fished Way Dam for many years, mostly during family vacations in the summer. I can remember as a kid catching plenty of walleye over 20 inches and beyond nearly every year. Now a full-time resident here, I put more fishing time in at Way Dam this past year than ever before. The biggest walleye I caught measured 17.5 inches. I think for every dozen walleye I caught, maybe one would crack the legal 15-inch mark.
Aside from walleye, I have vivid memories from childhood of anchoring over perch, crappie and bluegill holes and pulling in fish after fish. My brother and I would paddle out somewhere in a blow-up raft and catch perch all day. Or dad would motor us out to a deep-water stump where we’d tie on for seemingly endless action. It was so much fun, and probably a big reason why I became hooked on fishing as a kid. My experience this year when hitting some of those same spots was struggling to catch just a few panfish over long periods of time.
A DNR representative pointed out at Monday’s meeting that an aging reservoir can have a negative impact on a fish population. Way Dam is over 60 years old. When the impoundment was created, the water was jam-packed with nutrients thanks to the vast amounts of decaying timber on and below the surface. That was a boon for fish and other aquatic life for many years. But over time that timber and nutrient content has waned, the rep said.
Even though I have not fished there as often, I imagine the same holds true for the Peavy flowage further down river. Whether or not you buy the DNR’s reasoning, there seems no mistaking that the current state of fishing in these waters is in a decline.
Now I don’t know about other’s feelings, but to me the whole Michigamme hydro system is truly a treasure. Miles upon miles of shoreline remain remote and untouched to development. It’s something certainly worthy of preservation.
While this is a pitch for another time, if the day ever came when Wisconsin Electric decides to sell the shoreline along these waters, I would hope it could be bought in its entirety by the state or federal government and lumped in with neighboring state and federal lands as a protected area. Where else, outside of canada or possibly the northern-most reaches of Minnesota, can you find such a pristine, undeveloped northwoods inland water system? It’s truly unique and home to vast arrays of wildlife, migratory birds and the like. It is simply hard to find on this scale anymore elsewhere. Just look at Wisconsin’s cottage-packed northwoods shorelines.
In the meantime, I think it’s crucial that the DNR do all it can to support an abundant and thriving fish population in these waters, not only for the fishermen, but also for wildlife and everything else dependent on a healthy fish stock. Standards of what is acceptable for these waters deserve to be raised. Stocking fish of all types and promoting natural nutrient growth should be a priority. Even just a little attention would go a long way. The positive impacts of such action would be far-reaching for this area.
I also tend bar at Way Dam Resort, I can tell you firsthand that the multitudes of out-of-state vacationers who have been coming to the resort year after year are growing increasingly frustrated by the sub-par fishing. I’ve even heard more than a few hint they’ll be spending their fishing vacations (and money) elsewhere in the future if they have not already stopped coming.
I’d be willing to bet it’s a similar story at other inland lakes throughout Iron and Dickinson counties that have been neglected of proper management.
I’m also worried from my personal perspective as it relates to my own kids. Even though they are too young to fish right now, how am I supposed to get them interested in the sport if all it is sitting around for hours and catching very little. If the grand idea is to get more kids interested in fishing, there needs to be fish to catch.
While not a knock on anyone who enjoys other watersports, I want my kids to know you can have tremendous fun on a lake without pulling out a jet-ski or speedboat.
Perhaps I’m a bit too naive, but I want to believe the DNR will do right by the Michigamme system and other inland waters in these counties. As one of many who pay taxes and obey and respect our state’s sporting laws and regulations, I would hope the reward is a outdoors experience second to none.
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