Pere Marquette River anglers surveyed for first time since 1982

The Pere Marquette has long been a favorite destination for anglers. Great fishing for resident brown trout and lake-run salmon and steelhead generated an estimated 284,236 hours of angler effort in 2011.

The Pere Marquette River has a special place in the history of Michigan fisheries. The river was once home to native grayling that fell victim to logging practices, which eroded stream banks and scoured spawning habitat. Other fish were introduced to replace them. In 1884, brown trout were stocked in a tributary of the Pere Marquette. This was the first planting of brown trout in the United States. Since then, habitat restoration projects have aided in the river’s recovery. 

The Pere Marquette is the longest undammed stream in the Lower Peninsula. Salmon and steelhead from the big lake have established breeding populations in the river and its tributaries. In the late 1970s, the first large-scale study of salmon reproduction in the Lake Michigan basin found that the Pere Marquette was one of the top three Pere Marquette River image.producers of wild-spawned salmon due to the combination of cold water, lack of dams, abundant gravel, and high current velocity.

Abundant fish, a remote setting, and numerous national forest access points all contribute to the popularity of the Pere Marquette River. Anglers who prefer fly-fishing appreciate the flies-only regulations that apply to eight miles of river below Baldwin. Fishing is also excellent outside of the flies-only reach for those who prefer bait or hardware. In 1982, a survey of angler use and harvest found that anglers spent 56,260 hours fishing in the flies-only water and 7,818 hours fishing in a four-mile reach of water downstream. 

A more comprehensive survey was conducted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Statewide Angler Survey Program (SASP) in 2011. This survey covered the entire river from M-37 in Baldwin down to Old U.S. 31 in Ludington. On January 12, Tracy Kolb (MDNR) presented the results of that survey at the Ludington Regional Fisheries Workshop, an annual event hosted by Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant

The survey found that anglers spent an estimated 284,263 hours fishing on the Pere Marquette River in 2011. About 23 percent of the fishing effort occurred in the flies-only reach. Regulations in the flies-only reach require anglers to release all of their fish, although this is not required in other reaches. Even so, the survey found that the majority of trout and salmon caught in the Pere Marquette are released.

Anglers caught approximately 6,613 steelhead and 10,358 brown trout from the Pere Marquette in 2011. The number of trout kept was much lower, with anglers taking home only 198 steelhead and 393 brown trout. A larger percentage of Chinook salmon was kept, with anglers harvesting an estimated 9,862 of the 39,871 Chinook salmon caught in 2011.

To put these numbers in perspective, anglers fishing out of Ludington log about 150,000 hours each year to catch 20,000-30,000 Chinook salmon and 1,000-5,000 steelhead. Although rivers are not surveyed on a regular basis, the most recent estimates of effort from other rivers suggests that effort on the Pere Marquette is very similar to effort on trout/salmon/steelhead waters of the Muskegon and St. Joseph rivers. 

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