DNR surveys fish populations in Alpena lake

Jordan Travis
Associated Press

Alpena – — As Department of Natural Resources summer workers Sam Black and Joe Stutesman lifted a large-mesh fyke net in Lake Besser, the thrashing fish inside splashed their faces.

Caught in the net were walleye, pike, three kinds of bullhead catfish, a few panfish, some painted turtles and one massive snapping turtle.

Tim Cwalinski, DNR Northern Lake Huron Fisheries Unit senior fisheries biologist, measured the fish, calling out the lengths to Unit Fisheries Technician Supervisor Pat Van Daele, collecting scales from panfish under 6 inches and dorsal or anal fin spines from larger predator fish. Black collected the samples in a paper envelope and wrote on them.

It's all part of a fish assessment being conducted on Lake Besser. The crew of four set each net back, leaving some in place while relocating others. They set down three kinds of nets at various locations in the man-made lake and checked them later. After conducting a round of electrofishing, Cwalinski said he should have a pretty good idea of what's swimming around in the lake.

"These fish are pretty normal for a shallow impoundment with weeds, but there are some big walleye in there that people should fish for," he said.

The lake was last surveyed in 1985 and 1998, Cwalinski said. Taking these surveys over time helps the DNR get an idea of fish population trends. However, the two previous surveys were done with different gear types, so the results aren't directly comparable. Now the gear is standardized.

Surveyors use different gear types because certain species are more susceptible to others, Cwalinski said.

"Pike are more susceptible to gill nets or trap nets, but not to electrofishing," he said. "Largemouth bass are really susceptible to electrofishing, but with their big eyes they can see the gill nets and avoid them."

Lake Besser was picked at random through the department's stats and trends sampling program, Cwalinski said. The department already has surveyed Little Wolf and Big Bear lakes near Lewiston, and Van Daele said Fisheries techs will conduct walleye estimates in East Twin and West Twin lakes.

A creel catch survey clerk will work on these lakes throughout the summer. Also on schedule is a survey of Burt Lake, Cwalinski said, and a few teams will spend two weeks working on it.

The DNR will survey lakes through June, the same time its fisheries techs are collecting walleye fingerlings from rearing ponds, Cwalinski said. They'll switch to streams by July, and in September will begin their fall walleye evaluations. Then from early to mid-October they'll evaluate lakes where trout are stocked.