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Entries in Lake Michigan (45)


BoatUS Offers Safety Tips for Navigating Higher Waters in Great Lakes

With Great Lakes water levels on the rise and expected to continue to increase into summer, recreational boaters could find that deeper water under the keel may open a whole new range of cruising, fishing or sailing grounds to navigation. That same deep water, however, may present unique safety concerns on the water and at the dock, says Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS), the nation’s largest advocacy, services and safety organization.

According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Ontario is expected to see the largest increase at 17 inches higher over last year and lowland flooding is already hampering the boat-launch season on the lake. The second largest year-over-year increase goes to Lake Superior at 12 inches higher sometime in August, while Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are both predicted to rise 8 inches. Lake Erie is expected to be up 5 inches over last year.

BoatUS offer the following tips for boaters on the Great Lakes in these flooded conditions:

On the water: The good news is that deeper draft vessels may have more options for mooring, anchoring and slip rental, as well as increased access to the water. However, high water shifts sandbars. Traveling at slower speed can reduce the risk of grounding or running gear damage. Transient boaters can contact local TowBoatUS operators on VHF channel 16 for local information. In you’re headed into unfamiliar waters post an extra lookout, and if you’re traveling far, check ahead as locations to tie up may be inaccessible.

On the dock: Many fixed (non-floating), boat docks with electrical service are submerged, potentially compromising wiring and electrical connections. When waters recede and before power gets turned on, inspect the electrical service and consider installing a ground fault protection device if your dock power system does not already have one. Without it, the risk of Electric Shock Drowning (ESD) increases. A dock electrical maintenance check-up is also a good idea to schedule at the beginning of the each season


Feds Stall Even More on Plan to Protect Great Lakes From Asian Carp

What had been a slow walk to better protect the Great Lakes from invasion by Asian carp now has been delayed indefinitely.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had been scheduled to release draft results of a study that it began in April 2015, with intent of structural or technological upgrades  at Brandon Road Lock and Dam on the Illinois River near Joliet. A final version was to be released in 2019. The area is downstream of electrical barriers, intended to repel silver and bighead carp, but which have questionable effectiveness.

But now release of the draft "has been deferred pending further coordination" with government officials and advocacy groups, according to Allen March, Corps spokesman. He added that more consultation is needed "to address things like the range of diverse ecosystems and national economies that could be impacted by outcomes of the study."

In a nutshell, Illinois, especially Chicago, and Indiana oppose any option that would include closing the manmade connection between the river and Lake Michigan or otherwise impede commercial navigation. Fearing what might happen to a billion-dollar sportfishery if the carp enter the Great Lakes, other surrounding states long have lobbied for more aggressive action.

"After a lengthy review process, which included extensive outreach and collaboration with a broad range of stakeholders, it seems that the administration has decided to side with a narrow group of special interests intent on preventing actions to address the movement of Asian carp toward Lake Michigan," said Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

And Molly Flanagan of the Alliance for the Great Lakes added that "no credible reason" exists for additional delay.

The action was announced after 16 Congressional members, mostly from Illinois and Indiana, sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking for delay until a new assistant secretary of the Army for civil works is appointed.

In a statement, the lawmakers said the Corps "should not hastily recommend a structural alternative that could negatively impact the economy and the safety of towboat crews."

They also pointed out that 5 million pounds of carp have been removed from the Illinois River and argued that the leading edge of the invasion still is well below Brandon Road. But that amount is but a small fraction of the total biomass in the waterway. Additionally, the leading edge of the invasion by mature carp might not be advancing as rapidly as it once was, but the prolific exotics continue to spawn closer and closer to Lake Michigan. And the younger, smaller fish are much more likely to penetrate the electric barriers, possibly riding through in the wake of barge traffic.

Silver carp (top) and bighead carp.Do You Have a Better Idea?

Want to earn big bucks? Tell the state of Michigan how to keep Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes and possibly decimating the sport fishery there.

The state has allocated $1 million for the global competition, with most of it going toward a prize for the best idea. The rest will be used to publicize and initiate the campaign, expected to begin this summer.

"Somebody out there possibly could have a really good idea," said Joanne Foreman of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "Maybe they're not in fisheries or hydro-engineering."

Mary Flanagan with the Alliance for the Great Lakes added, "I think in the fight against Asian carp, there aren't really any bad ideas. We have to try a bunch of different things."

As silver and bighead carp spawn ever closer to Lake Michigan, the last barriers of defense are electronic barriers, but they are iffy at best. Officials fear that smaller fish could pass through them in the wakes of barges. Additionally, the best way to prevent invasion, closing the manmade connection between the Great Lakes and the Illinois River, almost certainly never will happen because of opposition from Illinois, Indiana, and power commercial navigation interests. Finally, the federal government, both under Barack Obama and Donald Trump, seems to see no urgency in developing a plan to keep the carp out.

All the other Great Lakes states, meanwhile, have pressed for years for an effective solution, with about $388 million spent since 2010, mostly by the feds. They have good reason to be concerned, too, as sport fishing in the Great Lakes region is worth about $7 billion annually. Michigan's tourism industry alone is valued at about $38 billion, with much of it focused on the outdoors.


Tons of Plastic Degrade Great Lakes, Potentially Harmful to Fish, Widlife 

Nearly 22 million pounds of plastic debris enter the Great Lakes annually from the United States and Canada, according to a recent study by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

"This study is the first picture of the true scale of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes," said Matthew Hoffman, an assistant professor in mathematics and the lead author of "Inventory and Transport of Plastic Debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes."

Hoffman used computer simulations to follow the volume of plastic debris moving across both state and international boundaries, with nearly half going into Lake Michigan. Lake Erie followed a distant second with 5.5 million pounds, while Lake Ontario had 3 million, Lake Huron 1.3, and Lake Superior the least at about 70,000 pounds.

To put that into perspective, annual pollution in Lake Michigan is the equivalent of 100 Olympic-size pools full of plastic bottles, while that for Ontario equates to about 28.

While bottles and other plastic pollution accumulate in gigantic "garbage patches" in the oceans, winds and currents mostly carry them to shore in the Great Lakes.

"Plastic accounts for approximately 80 percent of the litter on the shorelines of the Great Lakes," RIT said in announcing the report. "The study quantifies dense plastic that quickly sinks and surface plastics like microbeads, fragments and pellets, plastic line, and Styrofoam, which could be consumed by wildlife and potentially enter the food chain."

Estimates of these tiny plastic particles floating or suspended in the lakes range from nearly 10,000 pounds in Erie to 436 pounds in Superior.

"We know some of the plastic sinks. But when we input the numbers, this is the amount that's floating near the surface," Hoffman said, adding that these microplastics are most likely to end up in fish and other aquatic life. "But we also don't know a lot about what happens to the plastic that doesn't float and where it ends up."

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Superior warned that these pollutants could pose a serious threat to aquatic ecosystems in 2013. And both the United States and Canada are working toward stopping production and sale of personal care products that contain tiny plastic beads, which wash down drains, pass unfiltered through treatment plants and enter the Great Lakes and other waterways.

Not surprisingly, Hoffman and his team revealed that major population centers are the primary sources of pollution, with Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland, and Detroit releasing more plastics than accumulate on their adjoining shorelines.

"Most of the particles from Chicago and Milwaukee end up accumulating on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan, while the particles from Detroit and Cleveland end up along the southern coast of the eastern basin of Lake Erie," Hoffman said. "Particles released from Toronto appear to accumulate on the southern coast of Lake Ontario, including around Rochester and Sodus Bay."


Asian Carp Spawning Closer to Great Lakes

Asian carp have moved no closer to the Great Lakes during the past few years. They remain about 50 miles away. But they are spawning closer, and that's bad news.

"The bottom line is that the juvenile front is advancing, and made a big jump last year," said Joel Brammeier of the non-profit Alliance for the Great Lakes. "And we still don't have a permanent solution in place that's going to solve the problem."

That "big jump" was 90 miles.

Two electrical barriers and three locks and dams on the canal/river system serve as the final protection for Lake Michigan. Thus far, they have effectively blocked adult silver and bighead carp. But the smaller ones are much more likely to slip through in the wake of commercial barge traffic, which also can disrupt the effectiveness of the barriers.

"It seems like the wolves are at the door, and the door is still opening and closing," said Daniel O'Keefe of Michigan Sea Grant.

Meanwhile, a third electrical barrier is being constructed upstream of the other two, which are about 35 miles south of Lake Michigan. Intent is to make it more effective against juvenile fish, according to Charles Wooley, deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Great Lakes Region.

"There are no fish that are probing these electrical barriers on a daily basis," he added. "The closest these fish are is about 15 to 20 miles downstream, and that leading edge hasn't really changed much in the past five or six years."



The Best Day

I caught this 5-pound-plus smallmouth during my best day of fishing. Read about it in Why We Fish.

We say that bad fishing days don’t exist. But that’s not true. What we really mean is that we never have bad days on the water, no matter how uncooperative the fish are.

Exploring the reason for that is one of the reasons that I decided to write this book, and you can check elsewhere in these pages for what I’ve discovered from my own experience and that of fishing friends and acquaintances.

But for now, let’s just say that is the reality: A bad day of fishing is an oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp” and “living dead.”

Some days, however, are superior to others, and one of the primary explanations for that is the fish are biting.They’re even better when the bite is extraordinary. And the best when that bite is totally unanticipated, which leads me to my best day of fishing ever.

I’ve had a few other extraordinary days, including several on Mexico’s Lake El Salto, as well as a couple in Canada and Costa Rica. But hopeful expectations accompanied those days on the water.

That certainly was not the case for this early summer day angling for smallmouth bass out of Door County, Wisconsin. With several different guides who gave it their best, I had been trying to fish the Green Bay side of Lake Michigan for several days. But an unusually cold and brutal wind for June persisted out of the west, blowing right into our faces.

In short, we worked hard to avoid and/or navigate the rough waters and catch a few bass. Going into my last day, the trip had been most unmemorable in terms of angling success.

 (This is an excerpt from “The Best Day,” an essay in my book, Why We Fish--- Reel Wisdom From Real Fishermen.)