Monday, September 5, 2016

ADDENDUM TO PART II- SMOLTING- STEELHEAD PROGNOSIS 2016


                          ( an aggressive little Skamania steelhead smolt that will crush anything that comes its way)

In my attempt to define my reasoning why I think this fall should have an excellent fall run based on previous years data, I failed to factor one important variable into my equation- smolting success of river emigration.
Year class development and successful % ratios of returning adults vs. smolts stocked or wildly reproduced depends on the relative ease and success they have on making it back to the big lake. Long river systems with hydro dams and multiple larger predators like the Muskegon/St. Joe etc. will see smolts become dinner for the varied predators they have. Larger trout, salmon, pike, bass, musky- plus avian predation and diving birds like mergansers will gobble up smolts like pistachio nuts.
THE BEAUTY OF FLOODS AND STAINED WATER AT JUST THE RIGHT TIME
The spring of 2014 saw 100 year devastating flooding of Michigan Great Lakes rivers, along with others in Ontario and New York/OH/PA. ( I know it well since I lost my Yamaha jet boat to the flood while I was doing Beau Beasley's Virginia Fly Fishing and Wine Festival!)
(Muskegon at Croton Dam)
( Water ate New Bridge- bridge normally 12/14 feet above water- pontoon boat jammed against it along with docks and other debris)
In April 2014, 63,000 wild Michigan strain steelhead smolts were stocked on the Muskegon
This occurred right during  the peak of the flooding. Couple that with 50-70%wild reproduced smolts from the tributaries and main river, you have the perfect conditions for quick imprinting and migration in a high, stained water situation, where predators -both aquatic and avian have very little chance seeing these fast moving silvery sardines in water with next to zero visibility. The Pere Marquette/Grand/Joe/Manistee, and other NY/WI/OH/PA /Ont. rivers had similar conditions
One big factor many don't factor in, is the shoreline visibility in the big lakes. The entire  shoreline of Lake Michigan had one enormous brown stain plume of water visible by satellites from space , emanating from the swollen stained rivers, which makes predation on smolts just the much harder.
BOTTOM LINE 
2016 fall will see these prime 2/3 year old year class returns from this ideal smolting escapement of the floods. Lower, clearer spring waters tends to see high smolt mortality due to the ease of predation, BUT!, most importantly from trout fisherman worm dunkers that catch smolts out the yin/yang and just rip the worms out of their bleeding mouths and toss them in belly-up ( careless spinner and fly guys do the same- note the word -careless!)

WHY TYPE 3 REGULATIONS ARE CRITICAL IN PROTECTING STEELHEAD SMOLTS- NOT THE 10 INCH REGS
( Here is a gorgeous Michigan strain steelhead smolt at 15 inches that decided not to smolt and sat out /red shirted the smolting process for a year)
Over my past twenty years of being a steelhead /trout/salmon guide, I can't tell you how prevalent it is to catch smolts that are pushing the 12-16 inch range that just decided not to smolt for a year- genetic and ecosystem variables are in play. If they are not smolting at just that magic time when the smolting 'synergy' takes place with that year class, they will remain in the river for a year/sometimes two. They look very silvery. Often it happens on the Muskegon/Manistee/P.M. due to low water conditions and a very abundant food source- i.e.: sucker spawn, heavy drake /hex hatches etc. , where the attitude is , " hell , I have it good here-lots of food, why move!", comes into play for the fish.

ONE MORE THOUGHT ON 2016 SALMON RUN
( image taken October 2013 in my home Gray Drake pool of hundreds of large Chinook salmon staging off the dock- 2013 saw an amazing epic run!)
2013 saw an amazing spawning run of salmon on the Muskegon and other Great Lakes rivers. These eggs hatched as fry in the spring of 2014 and smolted during the 100 year flood of 2014. This fall should see these smolts return as 3 -salt adults- if you consider the summer they spent in 2014 in the salt/big lake as a foraging year.
END