Grayling restoration efforts past and future

Last month we learned that by 1900 our native Michigan grayling were extinct in the Lower Peninsula, but were hanging on in Houghton County’s Otter River.

The Otter River grayling were the only natives remaining from a once very abundant species.

This remnant population was also in danger of extinction. So in the early 1930s the Michigan Conservation Department purchased 23 acres on the North Branch of the Otter River in Portage Township (52N, R35WSec 25) where they constructed a grayling/trout rearing station.

A hatchery building with outdoor raceways was built, and an artesian well (which flows today) was dug for a water source. The site was used for several years and raised rainbow and brown trout, in addition to grayling. Use was discontinued when suitable grayling breeding stock could not be netted. The station produced grayling as follows: 1933 – 36,000 fingerlings (F); 1934 – 21,000 yearlings (Y) and 3,000 F; 1936 – 17,100 Y and 500 F; 1937 – 5,000 Y and 14,000 adults (A); 1940 – 10,000 F; and 1941 – 500 F.

In 1955 the Conservation Department sold the site to the Michigan College of Mining & Technology Forestry Club for one dollar, subject to the public right to hunt, fish, and trap. The Michigan Tech Forestry Club has maintained the building and uses it as a clubhouse. In downtown Elo, go west on Hatchery Road and follow 2.5 miles to river.

From 1958-60 just over 200,000 Montana strain fingerlings, eyed eggs, and fry were stocked into Lake Manganese and French Annie Creek in Keweenaw County.

Some of these survived, grew, and moved into adjacent waters, but failed to reproduce even though they produced gametes. These grayling were caught and/or observed in French Annie Creek, Manganese Lake and Creek, and Lake Fanny Hooe, ranging from 7.5 to 17 inches in length.

In the late 1980’s another effort to reestablish grayling was begun. From 1987-91 about 145,000 yearling grayling were stocked into nine streams (five UP/four LP) and 13 lakes (six UP/seven LP) in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula by the Fisheries Division, MDNR. The selected streams ranged from large rivers to creeks, while the lakes were mostly small. The waters stocked had a wide variety of fishing regulations, ranging from any legal method to closed for fishing.

However, fishing for grayling was catch and release only in all waters. The egg sources were Providence Creek, a tributary of the Mackenzie River, Northwest Territories, Canada and Meadow Lake, Wyoming.

Fisheries Division research biologists conducted a multiyear comprehensive, thorough evaluation of these plants. The methods used included electrofishing, netting, angler creel surveys, visual observations, and actual angling.

The results were both positive and negative, and gave an insight for future efforts.

The grayling stocked in all streams did not do well and were essentially gone in six months. Reasons cited was predation, competition for food, warm water disease, hooking mortality, and illegal harvest. The study showed they will survive best in large, cold, nonfragmented (no dams) rivers.

A 2010 MSU master’s thesis looked at almost 70 stream sections in the UP and LP. It identified six streams (only one in the UP) as having the best qualities for grayling reintroduction. The one main criterion cited as needed was large rivers, with unbroken reaches, same as the DNR conclusion. The Little Manistee and Pine rivers scored the highest, but both have significant populations of brook, brown, and rainbow trout. My considerable knowledge of these says there is a section of the Pine River suitable.

The lakes were more promising, with some fish surviving to age 5. In the first year, grayling survival was good in 7 of 10 lakes. They did best in lakes with few other fish and a good zooplankton population. Beyond the first year, they did well in most lakes. Survival was poorest where there were largemouth bass and brown trout.

Although many grayling reached reproductive age and had good available spawning habitat, no reproduction was ever found.

What lakes should be stocked? The study indicated lakes with few other fish, good zooplankton numbers, and alkalinity above 10 ppm, with fishing limited to artificial lures and flies only. Even then, it appears the fishery would be based on periodic plants.

Go Fish!