Rogue River ‘cash cow’ fed with fingerlings

River replenished with DNRE spring trout release

With state funding drying up for many public programs, those who live in the Rogue River watershed can be grateful that trout-stocking monies comes mostly from the federal government. Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Energy (DNRE) staff have been busy at work in and around Rockford, replenishing the Rogue’s supply of game fish.

Fisheries Technician Joe Michevich releases trout into the Rogue River. Photo by KYM STEFFES

Just after the spring trout opener, Joe Michevich, DNR Fisheries technician, put in over 17,000 Gilchrist Creek brown trout, nearly 10,000 Eagle Lake rainbow trout and have plans to put in another 7,300 in the weeks ahead.

“We have a federal three-to-one match,” said Jon Jackoviak of the Harrietta Fisheries Station in Harietta, Mich. For every dollar the DNRE spends on fish-stocking, three more come from federal funds.

Jackoviak said the browns and rainbows planted in Rockford are about 16 months old. The rainbows, a well-established stocking fish, are five to seven inches long when planted and may grow to their legal limit this season. The Gilchrist trout are a little smaller, around five inches, and will likely be large enough to be taken legally next year. The Gilchrist trout are a wilder strain and do better in streams than in hatcheries.

Jackoviak said his facility, the oldest in the state and built in 1901, received their brood stock in 1996. The state has been stocking fish since the 1890s and brought in German brown trout, a fish that was not found in United States streams until then. Annually the Harrietta Hatchery provides 1.3 million trout to streams and rivers in the southern half of the lower peninsula.

The Rogue River, like many of the tributaries to the Grand River, flows with cold, clear water from many springs and is good habitat for trout. Heavily fished, the Rogue benefits from stocking by replacing fish that anglers take and helping the population in cases where reproduction suffers for any variety of reasons. Jackoviak said field biologists survey streams to determine how many fish to plant in any given river or stream, but figures do not vary much year to year. The number of fish stocked also depends on how many eggs the hatchery acquires from their sources.

Estimated survival of the young trout is also determined by numerous variations. In some locations, the stocked fish have to be protected from predators, such as cormorants and seagulls during the stocking. Jackoviak said fishing organizations provide volunteers who distract the birds while the young fish become acclimated to their new surroundings. Because the Rogue River is a swiftly flowing body of water, fish planted here are rarely mass victims to diving birds.

Water temperature from the hatchery to the streams has to be carefully monitored as change in temperature can shock the fish. Jackoviak said the spring release of the fish is determined by the stream temperatures, which are usually ideal the end of March through the first of May. “It is also just before the explosion of plankton and bugs the fish need,” he said.

For anyone interested in learning more, the Harrietta Hatchery is open seven days a week, every day of the year from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and has outdoor visitor area as well. The facility was remodeled in 1979.

People who have absolutely no interest in fish, fishing or even in the Rogue River can nonetheless be pleased that this annual event continues and appears to be financially sustainable for the future. The Rogue River brings in visitors to Rockford for recreation from fishing, canoeing, kayaking and other river-related activities. The DNRE estimates the annual income to the area from this resource to be in the hundreds of thousands—that’s dollars, not fish.

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