Fly fishing rod

Northern Michigan Salmon Race Highlights Different Views on Hookup

Anglers fish during the salmon run at Tippy Dam in Brethren. Image: Max Copeland

By Max Copeland

Most salmon live about four to five years. At the end of their life, they return to the rivers where they were born. They lay eggs and then they die.

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This is called the salmon run. It happens every year around this time and it is a popular time for fishermen. During the race, the State Department of Natural Resources increases patrols in search of illegal fishing known as hooking.

Hanging is not allowed in Michigan but some fishermen think it should be.

In order to legally catch a fish, the angler must hook the fish inside the mouth. Dana Matthews has been fishing at Tippy Dam in Brethren for forty-five years.

“I had two, I lost them both,” Matthews said. “I think they got hung on the side a bit.”

Entanglement occurs when the hook lands somewhere on the body of the fish rather than inside its mouth. The practice was legal in Michigan, but was eventually banned in the 1990s.

The state’s concern is that hooking gives too many advantages to fishermen and can lead to overfishing. Paul Stowe works for the DNR at the Platte River State Hatchery.

“Their taking of so many fish has been quite damaging to some fisheries and some of the places that were popular and so this practice was stopped,” Stowe said.

Besides the effect it has on salmon populations, other fishermen argue that the hooking is heinous.

Brittani Gatchell owns the two king salmon she legally caught at Tippy Dam in Brethren. Image: Max Copeland

“The first season I found these people doing it, I thought it was the most barbaric thing I had ever seen,” said Chuck Hawkins, a fly fishing guide. of Traverse City.

He says spawning salmon usually don’t eat. Their reproductive organs are growing and their stomachs are shrinking. They can bite the hook, but it’s usually out of aggression and not out of hunger.

Hawkins says that’s why some anglers try to hook fish wherever they can. He says it’s not a fair fight.

“If you’re an athlete with any ethics, it’s unethical,” said Hawkins. “Fishing and hunting are meant to be fair hunting. “

The MRN does not keep an official count of the number of salmon catches. In his bi-monthly reports Conservation officers observed about 100 snag-related incidents during the 2018-2020 salmon runs in Michigan.

Many fishermen claim that the actual number is much higher.

Anglers flock to Tippy Dam to fish during the salmon run. Image: Max Copeland

Not everyone thinks a crash is bad sportsmanship. Gordon Parks owns Andy’s Tackle Box in Brethren. He remembers catching salmon when it was legal in Michigan.

Parks says many of her clients want snagging laws to become more lenient.

“They just want to catch a fish,” Parks said. “If the fish don’t bite, no matter what they throw at them, then where’s the fairness?” Where can we get something from this person for all the money they’ve spent? “

Because the salmon don’t bite a lot this time of year, Parks says hooking is the only way a fisherman can really to be to success.

When a fish gets caught in the mouth, he says the fisherman was lucky and put the hook in the right place.

While this is legal, Parks maintains that it is actually just another form of hooking up.

“You’re going to hang them in different places,” Parks said. “You keep letting them go… Finally, they put one in their mouths and they keep it, but the one that was in the mouth was still hanging on too. You see, there is the game.

As Parks sees it, relaxing the hooking rules would almost guarantee fish for anglers. That would bring more to northern Michigan, which would benefit his store and other players in the economy. Plus, he maintains that the fish are going to die anyway and stink the river.

Paul Stowe of the DNR is concerned if too many salmon are caught before spawning, it could destabilize the population again.

“If you take fish out, they can’t successfully reproduce and so under certain circumstances, especially when you allow people to take those fish out of the river so easily, it can hurt future fisheries,” Stowe said.

Stowe says maintaining these fisheries is expensive but worth it. Salmon make up a large part of the Great Lakes recreational fishery. It is already a big source of money for local economies.

According to the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, commercial, recreational and tribal fisheries are assessed together at over $ 7 billion per year.

Reporting by Max Copeland for Interlochen Public Radio in partnership with the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism

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