The Iron River just off U.S. 2 west of town is a favorite trout fishing spot because of its deep, cold waters. With the opening of trout season on Aril 26, fishermen hope that all the snow will have left the banks and the water will be open.
By Jerry DeRoche
CRYSTAL FALLS—Hearty folks abound in the Upper Peninsula, undeterred by the sometimes harsh weather as they go about their day-to-day lives.
Certainly local trout fisherman belong in this category. And their passion for their sport will burst forth again as trout season opens April 26 and gets going for another year.
This season begins after a brutal winter of arctic temperatures and mountainous snow. In turn, the 2014 winter of discontent has led to frigid water temperatures, with some streams ready to burst free of their banks and lakes still frozen over.
These conditions clearly affect local trout fishing.
“A lot of people are worried that it’s just going to be a terrible opener because of the conditions,” said DNR fisheries technician Jody Johnston. “Usually by this point, the water level has come down, and it’s easier to fish. In a typical trout opener, we’ve already pretty much had the snow melt off and a little more sun interaction to heat the streams.
“So then the stream is on a warming trend, and the fish are more active and biting better.”
That’s not the case this spring, however. The lasting cold has delayed the normal warming process the streams go through as the season changes. Johnston said ground-water temperature in the U.P. is somewhere between 40 and 42 degrees, but streams that are fed by this ground water will actually drop a few degrees as the ice melts.
This in turn affects the metabolism of trout, and they become more sluggish and less aggressive.
Often, this process has already happened. This season, however, it is still happening.
“Usually this happens before the opener, so it’s not a big deal,” Johnston said. “Then once the opener comes, there’s no snow left, the water level has gone back down, water temperatures are going back up, and that triggers those fish to bite.”
While things sound quite pessimistic for early-season trout fisherman, Johnston was quick to point out that the conditions can offer opportunities as well. Because lakes are still frozen, the opportunity to fish local trout lakes through the ice may be there. Special precautions should be taken by anyone who ventures onto the ice at this time of year.
“That’s something that people don’t think about or do a lot,” Johnston said. “Looking back through our records, we kind of come up with an average ice-off day. Basically over the last 20 years, that was supposed to be April 17.
“Last year we didn’t get on (the lakes) until the first week in May. Year before that, we were out, I believe, on March 26. I’m thinking it will be into May again this year.”
Safety is another issue this spring, with the high-water levels across the area. Johnston said he recently saw a photo of a small stream that a person could normally step over. The picture showed a raging torrent that “You think you might get swept away if you got into it.”
For those new to the sport or those unsure of the various regulations involved in trout fishing in county streams and lakes, Johnston recommends the 2014 Michigan Fishing Guide, available online at www.michigan.gov/dnr, at the DNR office and at license vendors across the county.
The guide is free of charge and is very useful, especially to those who venture out from their normal fishing spots and are unsure of the regulations concerning bait allowed, minimum fish size and catch limits.
“It’s a good tool to have,” said Johnston, who has been in his current position for three years after working as a fish assistant downstate. “A lot of people will say that they can’t understand it, that there’s too much stuff in there. But it’s not that complicated to look through it. I don’t memorize this thing. Every time I want to fish someplace, I look in there to be safe.”
All in all, Johnston said that expectations for the first week of the season may have to be tamped down, but he advises those heading out to see the bigger picture.
“I would recommend not getting caught up in getting your bag limit or dictating your success on how many fish you catch. This type of spring, it’s more about the experience of getting out there and sharing time with buddies or family members.”
Just like hearty folks do.