By Louie Stout
Lake Michigan anglers who have wanted more king salmon to catch are getting their wish.
The Indiana DNR announced details of the new stocking plan it will lay out in a public hearing in LaPorte Thursday and in East Chicago Saturday.
The LaPorte meeting will be held at Red Mill County Park beginning at 7 p.m. (CST). The East Chicago public meeting begins at 10 a.m. (CST) at the Indiana Harbor Yacht Club.
Anglers will be able to voice their opinions and give the DNR suggestions for the directions they would like to see the program go in the future.
Indiana and other Lake Michigan states cut king stockings in 2013 and added more cuts in 2016 due to concerns that the lake’s forage base was being depleted to dangerous levels. Not only are king salmon the most gluttonous predator fish in the lake, but studies show it also is reproducing more than biologists realized.
Since the cuts, however, the kings have produced much bigger fish the past three years, a result of the reduction in predators.
Lake-wide fish managers now figure the slightly rebounding forage base can handle the king increase, which is half of what had been cut in 2013 and 2016. Other states will be increasing their king stockings as well.
As of now, Indiana plans to stock 75,000 kings in Trail Creek, 75,000 in the Little Calumet River and 75,000 in the East Chicago Harbor. Previously, only 75,000 were stocked in those three tributaries.
The increase comes with some trade-offs, however, but none that will be felt by St. Joseph River anglers.
To accommodate hatchery demands and stay within lake-wide stocking guidelines, the DNR will eliminate Skamania Steelhead stockings in the Little Calumet and Salt Creek. Trail Creek retains its Skamania stocking.
“It was a hard decision for us to make since Skamania is our flagship fish in Lake Michigan,” explained Hoosier Lake Michigan Biologist Ben Dickinson. “However, Salt Creek gets so warm during the summer that very few fish make it up there and there is very little fishing effort.”
Trail Creek, he added, has cooler water and gets 14 times the amount of fishing effort as the Little Calumet and Salt Creek.
In addition, the DNR will cut coho fall stocking numbers in northwest Indiana but will stock 65,000 spring fingerlings (coho kept in the hatchery through winter instead of stocking them in the fall when they are smaller).
“We’ve proven on the St. Joe that the numbers of returns we get on fish stocked in the spring are three to four times greater than those we stock in the fall,” Dickinson said. “Although stocking numbers will be lower, we should see more fish returning to those streams in the fall.”
The smaller coho that are stocked in fall stay in the tributaries until spring. Biologists believe a high number get eaten by other predators before they leave for the big lake in the spring.
“The survival rate is much better when we can get them into the lake sooner,” said Dickinson.
The biologist predicts that the fall stream fishery on the Little Calumet system will improve despite losing its summer run Skamania. The northwest streams will continue to receive stockings of the winter-run steelhead.
Dickinson says a big part of next weekend’s meetings will be spent listening to angler concerns and suggestions.
“This plan is based upon what anglers told us they’d like to see back when we made the king cuts in 2016,” he said. “Now that we’ve done that, we want to know the direction they would like us to head in the future. Those discussions will help us shape future stocking plans.”