Stephen Rose and I visited the Milwaukee River yesterday afternoon. Look at that picture down there. Isn’t that a beautiful place? That could just a well be the West Fork of the Chippewa River in Vilas County. But it’s not. It’s in Milwaukee.
Stephen and I have talked frequently about what it means to have “non-invasive” non-native fish in our water system. I found out that the village of Grafton, which had a referendum on what to do with the dam in their community, voted to keep the dam in place, but to put in a fish way to allow fish passage up and down the river. The DNR, later on, determined that it would be a bad idea to allow fish to migrate upstream of Grafton because of the risk of invasive species like Asian Carp invading the upper Milwaukee River system. At some level I agree that it would be good, if Asian Carp were to make their way into the Great Lakes, for them to be prevented from invading the upper Milwaukee River. But I also think it would be a good thing for Brook Trout to be able to migrate from spawning areas in the Northern Kettle Moraine creeks all the way out to Lake Michigan and back. We’re not going to get anywhere in reintroducing native Coaster Brook Trout into the Lake Michigan Tribs if they can’t get from the lake up to the creeks at the upper reaches of watersheds like the Milwaukee River.
So, how do we all determine what’s best? How is the presence of large, non-native predatory salmonids in the Great Lakes appropriate? Salmon and Steelhead are certainly admirable creatures. Their migrations are awe-inspiring and spectacular. But how does their presence negatively affect the native Bass, Pike, Suckers, and Whitefish, not to mention Brook Trout and Lake Trout, both of which are also native?
These questions are larger than me. Many people don’t even care, or don’t even know. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe we humans are programmed to reshape our world to our liking, and introducing Salmon and Steelhead into the Great Lakes is just part of our role in the world.
Anyway, a couple of boys were fishing along the bank and were slinging lures at Salmon. They didn’t know what they were doing. They weren’t having any luck. One ended up snagging one in front if its tail and was having trouble getting it to hand. I asked if I could lend a hand, and waded over to collect the fish, pull the hook out, and give it to the boy for his buddy to take a picture. He was genuinely in awe of the creature, a large, toothy fish half his height in length.
He asked if I’d caught any and I said no, I hadn’t. He wished me luck and as I left he expressed his love for the Milwaukee River. So, did that Salmon get him to fall in love with the river? It probably had a lot to do with it. And that, to me, seems like a good thing. If people care about a place because of their experiences there, it makes sense to provide them with cool things to experience in that place. It’s hard to fall in love with a polluted and fishless river. But a clean, swift moving river full of big fish will draw a lot of visitors to it. Those visitors will want to see that the river is taken care of. So maybe introducing Salmon and Steelhead is overall a positive. It’s hard for me to say. Perhaps you have some ideas? I’d love to hear what you all have to say.
Milwaukee River, October 25, 2013
I fished in Milwaukee on Saturday with dozens of my closest friends. There are a lot of guys out there after salmon. I haven’t got the strategy figured out yet for catching migrating salmon legally. I’m suspicious that every salmon caught in the Milwaukee River is caught via a snag. I know this debate rages on forums like Lake-Link.com with some saying they are catching them in the mouth while others go on and on about witnessing fish harvested with treble hooks in the dorsal fin. It sure looked to me like the few hooks that found salmon were stuck in places well back from the mouth.
I’m hoping in the next several weeks the salmon have run their course, the weather gets nasty, and the Steelhead are all that’s left of the lake-run fish. I’ll be out there, with a lot fewer friends, swinging streamers for Steelhead.
Speaking of swinging, I got the hang of the Skagit cast to the degree that I made every fourth or fifth cast very adeptly. I have work to do to get power into my cast so I can get them to reach a little further. Right now I’m basically able to cast the shooting head and about ten feet of running line. I need to slow things down a bit on the forward cast I guess.
Salmon Fisherman on the Milwaukee River
The wrecking ball has started swinging in the Menomonee River in Milwaukee this week, removing a 1,100 foot concrete channel that prevented fish from passing upstream. This work follows in the footsteps of major dam removal projects up and down the Milwaukee River that have allowed for fish and wildlife habitat restoration.
There are salmon and steelhead runs in the Menomonee River, but they’re stopped short upon reaching the concrete channel because the currents are too swift for them to swim through successfully. Restoration of the channel back to a more natural state will allow fish to explore 17 miles of water upstream, all the way up to another man made barrier, the Lepper Dam, in Menomonee Falls.
The flow of water has been redirected and is being pumped around it. The Wisconsin Ave. bridge is in the background. The pipes carrying the water around this section are at right and left. – Image credit: Michael Sears
The next step is for communities like Menomonee Falls and Grafton to recognize that removing obsolete dams and restoring natural rapids and falls can enhance their communities in many ways, including tourism dollars from fisherman chasing migrating fish.
Erik Helm, the Fishing Manager at Orvis in Glendale, Wisconsin has eloquently written about what could happen in either of these towns if only their residents would look back to what existed before the mill ponds.
Imagine a place like West Bend becoming a spawning habitat for steelhead. Imagine the reinvigorated riverway, no longer smelly and stale but clear-running and full of wild things. East and West, communities are working to tear down old dams, restoring beautiful, historic rivers for the enjoyment of all. Milwaukee is doing it, and yeah, Grafton and Menomonee Falls can do it too.
I found this at moldychum.com. I like the message that animals do some extreme stuff, and salmon are exemplary in their extreme-ness.
Can you imagine emulating their life cycle?
Get born, survive in a stream for a while, swim to the ocean, be a predator and get fat, then somehow figure your way back to the very spot you were born without the help of a map or the benefit of nourishment during your journey, all the while fighting and competing with your brothers and sisters for mates, spill your spawn until you’re exhausted, only to die in the process?
Salmon are, indeed, incredible.
Shred Till Death, Salmon. from Will Lyons on Vimeo.