Bringing more magic to the northwestern Lower Peninsula

brown trout laying on wood planksThe northwestern portion of Michigan's Lower Peninsula has always been known for its beautiful scenery, fun atmosphere and scenic destinations. Much of that has stemmed from its long history with fishing - first commercially and then recreationally.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s ports along Lake Michigan capitalized on opportunities available in the large waterbody and the commercial fishing industry grew and flourished over time as participants harvested lake trout, walleye, yellow perch, lake herring, lake whitefish and other species.

But then a dramatic shift happened. Between overfishing for some species and an increase in invasive species that impacted others, less and less commercial and recreational fishers were out on Lake Michigan and the industry began to change significantly.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources knew something had to change.

"The DNR has always tried to manage the state's fisheries over the years to continue to provide commercial harvest opportunities but also those that are recreationally-based," said Paul Stowe, a fisheries biologist at the Platte River State Fish Hatchery.

Enter the Great Lakes salmon program and the limitation of commercial fishing licenses of the 1960s. These two major efforts effectively changed the face of the state's fishing industry - but yet still more changes were on the way.

"Things have continued to change dramatically because of aquatic invasive species," explained Stowe. "For instance, the introduction of salmon impacted the alewife population, but now we've got an abundance of gobies…and Chinook salmon don't particularly prey upon gobies."

But guess which fish species does like gobies? Brown trout.

The DNR has been rearing brown trout in its state fish hatcheries and stocking them in northern Lake Michigan ports (among other locations) for many years. Previously much effort was focused on east and west Grand Traverse Bays, with up to 100,000 fish stocked but not much return seen on the investment.

"We find brown trout can be most successful in areas where we can stock a large number of fish and provide them with good access to deep water, especially water that has color and productivity to it," explained Heather Hettinger, a fisheries biologist out of Traverse City. "West Grand Traverse Bay doesn't really meet that bill any more. There are anglers out there targeting them, but the catch rates have been fairly low."

The DNR knew other ports in the area did meet ideal brown trout habitat criteria and in 2015 fisheries managers began exploring other options both internally and externally and putting some plans into place. Primarily it meant moving the available brown trout around and working to create a buzz along the coast.

"Basically we want to create a regional brown trout destination for the northwestern Lower Peninsula," said Hettinger. "We want to keep using existing brown trout ports and fill in gaps from Leland all the way down to Ludington."

As a result, the DNR has selected three new sites to add to the region's pre-existing brown trout stocking sites (Manistee, Frankfort, Petoskey) in the form of Platte Bay, Glen Arbor and Leland. Feedback from local sportfishing groups was positive and the DNR felt confident in the adjustment based on the opportunity to monitor its impact through creel surveys and charter captain reports.

The plan was put into action this spring with a total of 67,000 yearling brown trout fish stocked in the new locations in April. These fish came from Harrietta and Oden state fish hatcheries.

"Five years from now we can review and determine if we need to move fish around again," Hettinger said. "We should start to see some of the fish we just stocked show up in the creel reports next year, coming back in the 15 to 17 inch category."

This is going to be an exciting opportunity for anglers to pursue and Paul Stowe thinks folks should think about planning a trip in the near future.

"I will pursue this angling opportunity personally," he exclaimed. "I used to do a lot of brown trout fishing when I was a kid and I strongly believe with the presence of gobies and these new stocking locations this fishery is going to explode."

Don't miss your chance to be on the leading edge of this dynamic fishery. Start by first learning how to properly identify a brown trout (a common issue for many anglers) by visiting Michigan.gov/fishid.