Planting fish in the Elk Creek in the late 1800's. Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan Archives.
A re-creation of the State of Michigan's Wolverine "fish car" that ran from 1913-1935. Photo by Tamar Charney.
Collecting fish eggs from the Detroit River in the late 1800's. Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan Archives.
Tim Tebeau fishes for steelhead trout in the Boyne River in Northern Michigan. Photo by Tamar Charney.
The Wolverine fish car at the Soo Hatchery in 1916. Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan Archives.
Brook trout at the Michigan Fisheries Visitors Center's stream viewing chamber. Photo by Tamar Charney.
Head to almost any body of water and chances are you’ll find someone there fishing. We take it for granted that lakes and streams have fish in them. But most waterways can’t produce enough fish to keep up with demand. For more than 100 years states around the nation have been stocking the water with fish. Tamar Charney reports:
Head to almost any body of water and chances are you’ll find someone there fishing. We take it for granted that lakes and streams have fish in them. But most waterways can’t produce enough fish to keep up with demand. For over 100 years states around the nation have been stocking the water with fish. Tamar Charney reports:
(Sounds of water in a stream)
When you stand at the side of the Boyne River in northern Michigan, you can smell the balsam fir that line the banks.
“There go a couple of salmon, right at our feet you can see.”
Tim Tebeau is standing under some branches casting his line into the river.
“We’re fishing for steelhead trout today. They are most likely just lying there waiting for something to come their way.”
The lakes and streams in this part of the state have drawn fishermen for years. Tim Tebeau says that includes writer Ernest Hemingway who set many of his short stories in Northern Michigan.
“As a writer I kind of revere Hemingway, and I spend a lot of time fishing the very same streams he did when he was spending his summers here.”
But if it weren’t for human intervention there wouldn’t have been fish for Hemingway, or for Tim Tebeau to fish for. In the mid to late 1800’s people started noticing that pollution, habitat destruction from dams and logging, and over-fishing were killing off almost all the fish in New England, and in the Great Lakes region.
Gary Whelen is the fish production manager for the state of Michigan. He says people began to squeeze out the eggs from fish, hatch them, and put the small fish back into lakes and streams.
“In 1870 many state agencies were looking at building hatchery systems.”
The hatchery systems rebuilt the populations of many native fish, including the brook trout that Hemingway liked to fish for. But they didn’t just breed local fish. For instance they brought in brown trout from Germany in 1883, and Whelan says the steelhead that Tim Tebeau fishes for came from California in 1877.
“Some of us depict that era as the ‘Johnny Fishseed’ period, where we were moving fish all over the continent, and internationally for that matter, bringing fish in that were considered commercially or economically important.”
Now this was long before there were highways, so if you wanted to move stuff long distances you basically had one choice.
(sound of train whistle)
That’s right, trains.
“This is a re-creation of the last of the 3 fish cars that transported fish around the state of Michigan. So this is a re-creation of the Wolverine.”
Maureen Jacobs is with the Michigan Fishery’s Visitors Center. The train car she’s standing in shows people, complete with train sound effects, how the fish were moved in the late 1800s and early 1900s. What you see is that the fish rode in the lap of luxury.
“They had chandeliers on the old fish cars!”
See, the fish cars were Pullman cars, used ones, but they still had all the trappings, including the mahogany bunks that the guys who cared for the fish slept on. Underneath the bunks were row after row of milk cans full of water and tiny little fish.
“Public citizens called ‘applicants’ would apply for permits to meet the train at different depots around the state of Michigan. From there, they would remove the old fish cans and plant the fingerlings in different lakes, rivers, and streams, so the public would basically stock the fish.”
Things are different today. People no longer pick up cans at the train station. Hatcheries are big modern facilities, the fish are moved by truck, and fisheries’ staff take care of releasing them. But they are still needed to make sure there are enough for people to fish for, because over-fishing and environmental damage are problems that haven’t gone away.
(Sounds of birds and water.)
“I’m going to adjust the depth a little bit here, get it closer to the bottom.”
Unfortunately the dark shapes you can just make out swimming around in the Boyne River aren’t biting Tim Tebeau’s line. But he’s says they’re there.
“If it weren’t for stocking programs like the ones we have, we wouldn’t be fishing for anything today; we’d simply be standing here enjoying the river.”
And perhaps tomorrow he’ll catch one, take a good look at it, and release it back to it’s watery world; an experience that will show up in unexpected ways in his writing, the same way fishing these streams inspired Ernest Hemingway many years ago. Good thing there were fish to fish for, huh?