By Louie Stout
Another Indiana DNR veteran is calling it quits and this one is going to be missed dearly in Michiana.
Neil Ledet (pronounced La-DAY), a name you’ve seen frequently in this column, is trading his green state issued uniform for camo hunting garb and a fishing hat.
The 64-year-old district 2 fish biologist retires at the end of 2016.
Although his jurisdiction covers most of northeastern Indiana where he managed several natural lakes, he has played a critical role in the nurturing of several fish-related projects on the St. Joseph River.
The next time you catch a walleye or trout and salmon from the St. Joseph River, know that Ledet was one of the key DNR people who helped make it possible.
But Ledet argues otherwise.
“All the credit for the walleyes in the St. Joe belongs to the Michiana Walleye Association,” said Ledet. “And as far as the state government’s role, this was a team project that involved other DNR employees that have worked equally hard to get things done.”
No doubt the local club deserves a ton of credit, but without Ledet’s guidance and expertise to moving the approval process through state government can’t be overlooked. Sure, it was his job, but he made it a priority and invested his time in making things happen for passionate anglers in this area.
He also was also instrumental in helping I&M Power get its Federal permits for operation on the river and worked out a deal in which the Indiana DNR gets $5,000 donation that goes toward a river fish stocking fund.
And while the Michiana Steelheaders played a big role in getting the ladders built for fish to move into Indiana, it was Ledet who laid much of the groundwork.
You see, 40 years ago Ledet started working in Michigan City as an “anadromous” biologist. He was the stream biologist, overseeing Trail Creek and other Lake Michigan tributaries, monitoring fish movement and populations.
He helped build the first weir on Lake Michigan designed to collect brood stock for the hatcheries.
When he left Michigan City to become the District 2 biologist east of here, discussions began about the St. Joe salmon ladder project. The DNR asked him to follow the project until its completion, after which it was turned over to the Lake Michigan office staff in Michigan City.
Ledet credits a lot of the joy that came from his job was his interaction with angler groups across northern Indiana.
“I’ve been impressed with how Hoosiers now embrace catch and release of bass and the 14-inch size limit,” he explains. “We even have bluegill anglers wanting a bag limit and that’s all something we didn’t see when I first started.”
So beginning with the New Year, Ledet will be among those anglers chasing panfish and walleyes in northern Indiana.
“I want to spend more time hunting and fishing, visiting friends and relatives,” he said. “I’ve got two young grandsons I want to play with and a lot of home projects to catch up on.”
Ledet’s retirement raises concerns as to who will fill his shoes. However, the veteran biologist says his assistant, Larry Koza, has been at his side through much of the river work, could easily pick up where he left off.
Northern Fisheries Supervisor Jeremy Price said the job opening will have to go through a state government process but agrees that Koza would be a likely candidate.
“Larry knows the district and could fill that void in a solid way,” said Price. “On the other hand, we will miss Neil’s experience and sage-like wisdom.”
And so will Michiana.