A few conservation notes at the bottom of this report…

As much of the Midwest battles floods, most of the Au Sable and Manistee are normal, or even low, considering the snow is gone and the ground is thawing.  It’s too early to say it’s an early spring.  But the highs all week are going to be near or above 40 degrees, some great big fish have been caught, my friend Mike saw three rises, and it’s fishing time.

If my streamer rods were hunting dogs, they’d be whimpering.   As it is, my hunting dogs are sleeping because they know.  It’s time to be on the water, to pick a stretch whether on foot or on boat, and to hit the banks, the backwaters, to strip, jig, and otherwise tempt.  With the water being more or less wadeable in a lot of spots, there’s some fun to be had in the relative serenity of March.  The many fishy distractions —  steelhead, bonefish, southern trout — keep the landlocked rivers pretty quiet even when the fishing is pretty good.  And that’s what it has been: pretty good.  March is rarely the time of plenty.  But when you find a trout, they’re usually pretty big.

Joe floated with Josh Nethers…and they had a day!  

The South Branch is high and the mysterious tannic/clear that it gets in the spring.  I would wade it…in the right stretch, and very carefully.  But for those that do it’s a long way in there, and it’s not a good place to lose your footing in March.  The Manistee is pretty wadeable up high in the special regulations water.  The Au Sable mainstream is in perfect condition, as is the North Branch.

The plan tomorrow is to float the late afternoon.   A little three-hour run through the late afternoon and the change of light, which can be March magic.  I’m not sure why it is, but pre-spawn fish seem to shut off before dinner.  Post-spawn/spring fish will sometimes start feeding at dinner time, and feed right through sunset.  There’s a huge front moving through tomorrow — one that we’re on the northern edge of.  I’m hoping that it’s the right kind of front.  What’s the right kind of front?  Who knows.  I guess it’s best just to go fishing and let hindsight sort it out.

Kevin with a dandy

We’re hosting our last Free Fly Tying Saturday of the season this Saturday, March 3.  We should also have eight rooms open for this weekend, as well as some guides, if you’re ready to try out some March fly-fishing, fly-tying, or both.

A new Au Sable boat launch?

Like many, I just recently learned of a proposed boat launch in the town of Grayling.  Local conservation groups will be formally asking for a proper public comment period as well as a look-see at the site plans.  Until the plans are available, it’s hard to know what to think.  We’re supposed to have comments to the Grayling City Manager by March 2!   Not sure how to comment on something that apparently has no plans(?)   So I guess my comment would be to see the plans, as well as the enforcement strategy for limitations on alcohol, and Super Soakers.

Here is the article:


And here is contact info for the Grayling City Manager, Doug Baum:

[email protected]

Where’d all the water go?

Judging by social media, many have already seen this.  If you haven’t, I apologize that I got to it late.  My understanding is that this bill was a rush job to try to sneak it by Michigan’s many conservationists.  They didn’t make it.   I like the part where it’s up to the DEQ to prove that a water withdrawal will have a negative impact.  Doubt that’ll happen.  I also like the block to FOIA requests.  Pesky water-lovers!  Public opinion works.  Have a drink, and write a letter.  That’s what I’m about to do.

This well-written explanation and call-to-action is from Michigan TU:

New legislative House Bill 5638 (http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(zin5stf1gmmknfskaqs4l5dl))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=2018-HB-5638) would fundamentally undermine Michigan’s large quantity water withdrawal regulations.  The bill, introduced last Thursday, has a hearing scheduled for this Wednesday, February 28, in the House of Representatives’ Natural Resource Committee.  The hearing will be held at 9:00 am, in room 326 of the House Office Building (immediately to the east northeast of the Capitol Building).

This bill, was introduced by Representative Aaron Miller and backed by the Michigan Farm Bureau.  It is structured to fundamentally make Part 327, the regulatory program for Large Quantity Water Withdrawals, ineffectual.  Currently, new large withdrawals must be screened through the online water withdrawal assessment tool, and those that are predicted to cause unlawful adverse resource impacts, or those believed to be approaching that level, are required to undergo a site specific review process. (for more information on all of Part 327 and its underpinnings visit tutorials at http://www.michigantu.org/index.php/michigan-tu-contacts-2/michigan-tu-contacts-4/water-withdrawal-a-use-policy)  During the process, additional site-specific data can be considered in evaluating the level of impact the new large withdrawal is predicted to have.  HB5638 proposes to give approvals for all new requests (even those predicted to cause adverse resource impacts) if the applicant’s consultants submit data about the withdrawal. That’s right, if they submit data, period.  The bill would give the DEQ 10 days to evaluate and notify if the proposed withdrawal would cause adverse resource impacts.  If they do, the applicant still gets a “provisional” approval, and basically it’s up to the DEQ to try to prove it had the impact.   Any data submitted in the process would be except from public transparency through a freedom of Information Act exemption the bill proposes.  The result, is that none of us would ever get to know anything about new large quantity water withdrawals, the impact they are causing, or the manner in which they were approved. 

Further, the bill contains several other provisions intended to allow gaming of the system by applicants, in ways that will lead to adverse resource impacts across the state’s waters. The bill is proposing to allow automatic approvals for any wells intended to be drilled into bedrock.  This is despite Michigan science showing that these are not routinely separated from streams and without depletion consequences for them.  The State Water Use Advisory Council (http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3313_3684_64633—,00.html), is a committee of water user groups and conservation interests, and includes numerous scientific experts on all various related fields.  This group was charged with making recommendations for the program’s development, and has done so in public report.  Farm Bureau is a participating voting member, and co-chair for the WUAC, and approved all of the nearly 70 consensus recommendations from its last report.  Two of those recommendations specifically addressed issues of their concern, like the bedrock issue, and development of guidelines for new data and modeling tools.  But despite their involvement, their bill specifically contradicts several of those recommendations they participated in developing, on the exact issues they pertain to. 

Since 2009 (when the existing law took effect), there have been over 4,000 new large quantity water withdrawal requests (roughly one every other day for the last decade), approximately 90% of which have been for agricultural irrigation.  Of the 3,000, only approximately 40 have been declined (due to predicted adverse resource impacts).  This is despite intense demand concentrated in southwest Michigan in the same heavily demanded watersheds, where lucrative seed production contracts have driven the new withdrawals.  Apparently, 40 denials out of 3,000 is too many for those looking to cash in on seed contracts.  Apparently, the law (which had the support of water user groups including Farm Bureau) was supportable only if it never actually applied to anyone.

Now that the protections afforded by this law are becoming, in some areas, more than a hypothetical limitation, this bill seeks to change the rules and ensure that the protections afforded by law are never applied, impacts never proven, and that all of us never see what happens.  If this bill passes, it will result in frequent adverse resource impacts, excessive withdrawals, unenforced illegal stream depletions, and will diminish fisheries.  This is about the very groundwater that makes trout streams possible, this is of paramount importance to our coldwater fisheries.    

 What You Need to Do to Help

  1. Attend and give personal testimony of your opinion, at the House Committee hearing on the bill, scheduled for 9:00 am Wednesday February 28, 2016, in room 326 of the House Office Building in Lansing. Public attendance and personal testimony at this hearing is critically important to see it is not allowed to be “fast-tracked”.  If you or someone you know can attend, please make the effort. (http://house.mi.gov/MHRPublic/CommitteeInfo.aspx?comkey=436)    
  2. If your Representative happens to be a member of the House Natural Resource Committee, make sure to contact them immediately to express your concerns.  The committee members include Gary Howell, Beau LaFave, David Maturen, Joseph Bellino, Daire Rendon, Curt Vanderwall, William Sowerby, Stephanie Chang, and Sara Cambensy.  (http://house.mi.gov/MHRPublic/CommitteeInfo.aspx?comkey=436)  
  3. Contact your Representative to voice your concern about HB5638.  (find your Representative at http://www.house.michigan.gov/mhrpublic/frmFindaRep.aspx
  4. Contact your Senator to voice your concern about HB5638 (for right now this is still in the House, but could be moved out quickly). (find your senator at http://senate.michigan.gov/
  5. Contact the Governor’s Office to express your concern about HB5638 and urge him to veto the bill should it be sent to his desk by the legislature.  (https://somgovweb.state.mi.us/GovRelations/ShareOpinion.aspx