Regulations on the PM: a mid-salmon season story

Hold on tight. Kevin sends along this story:

My daughter and I just got back from a quick two mile trip down the road that we live on. We try to get out a couple times a week and always take the same route. I run, or more accurately jog slowly, while she keeps pace riding her little pink bike. The road is located in the country near the Pere Marquette River and is busily traveled during the fishing seasons.

This time of year and again in the spring we have a habit, actually the same habit I have when I float the river: we pick-up beer cans, lots and lots of beer cans. Over the short two miles that we travel, there are, on average, about a dozen new beer cans every couple days.

These cans are not part of someone’s regular roadside household trash dumping chores. They are almost certainly beers consumed along the river and in the car that get chucked out the window while driving, one or two at a time. Again, the cans come and go with the big fish. Or, to put a bit finer point on it, the cans come and go with the big fish harvesters.

I see them every day on the river, a white or yellow rod about half the size of a telephone pole spooled with weed-whacker string in one hand, a can of Busch Light (always Busch Light) in the other. They keep their five salmon limit every day that they can, for weeks on end. It is harder to see them as they roar down our street at a hundred miles an hour in a beat-up truck that sounds like a jet. These vehicles do not sound like a jet because they are high performance machines. Rather, they simply have no working exhaust. I envision these rust-rocket pilots driving much like they fish, one hand on the wheel, the other wrapped around a not quite warm can of Busch Light.

And if you and your child are lucky enough to beat them to a great spot, they are often more than happy to plop their stringer of fish down on the bank, have a seat, pop the top on a Busch Light, and talk loudly to their friends about things that would make most folks uncomfortable.

Please don’t let our rant discourage you, oh dear and good and honest sportspersons, from visiting this incredible river. As professional guides we are expert in mostly avoiding the Busch Light crowd, a crowd that tends to congregate in select areas. However, we firmly believe that to make positive change happen, we have to be honest. We have to let people know that it’s not all “Pure Michigan” all the time around here.

All anglers are of course interested in great fishing, but also in having a quality outdoor experience with family and friends. No one likes more laws and rules, but without them almost anything becomes degraded to the lowest possible level. It is clear that areas like the flies-only no-kill water on the PM are safe and clean and offer excellent fishing. Most other easily accessible public areas with standard regulations are dominated by people that have as their main focus stuffing coolers with daily limits of wild fish.

This is wrong and it needs to change. The five salmon per person, per day limit has only made things worse at a time when Michigan needs things to get better. When any public fishing area is not safe and inviting for children, things must change.

This time of year, being on the water day in and day out for six weeks, we get particularly frustrated with the behavior on certain areas of the Pere Marquette. But the most frustrating thing is that PM salmon are 100% wild. Every cooler of fish that gets raked off spawning gravels and ripped out of holes are fish that will not reproduce, that will not contribute to future runs. The salmon run is good, but it could be a lot better. The Pere Marquette produces world class salmon fishing at no cost through wild reproduction. Why stifle it with liberal creel limits that are also at the root of so much unpleasant angler behavior?

The Pere Marquette River is a very special river. It is best managed with special regulations.

This winter we will be back in the meeting rooms begging the Michigan DNRE to give us a few more miles of special regulations. Our opponents and the DNRE themselves will say, “you’re exaggerating the situation.” But when was the last time they visited one of these areas in the peak season? Where are the studies that show a 5 fish limit is appropriate for a 100% wild salmon fishery? I’ve been dancing this same dance for a decade and others have been at it for more than 30 years. The MDNRE and Natural Resource Commission are ultimately responsible for the state of Michigan’s natural resources, not us. We currently have a little over one hundred miles of special-regulations on our cold water rivers with another 75 possible miles pending in the newly proposed regulations. This is out of some eighteen thousand total miles in the state, about one percent.

Sticking your head in the sand is no excuse for failure and we have been failing long enough. This winter, instead of again insisting that we are exaggerating, why don’t you show us some pictures of your family vacation at Maple Leaf, Indian Bridge, Tippy Dam or one of Michigan’s other public salmon fishing extravaganzas?

There are only 4 or 5 truly bad areas on 80 miles of the Pere Marquette, but high rates of salmon harvesting in these areas impacts the entire fishery. The PM is a very special fishery, one that needs special protection. Let’s take a “zero-tolerance” stance and reclaim these areas.

The fishing is great now. Imagine what it could be with appropriate regulations.

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