Despite nets, fishing heats up at Manistee

By Steve Griffin

Field Editor

Manistee, Mich. – Beyond the usual vagaries of weather, lure
choice, and trolling speed, there’s an extra challenge to salmon
fishing out of the Lake Michigan port of Manistee this season –
commercial fishing nets.

But despite the need to spot and avoid the potentially
gear-tangling nets, there’s plenty of fishing water and plenty of
fish available here.

‘The fishing has been pretty good,’ said Capt. Larry Scharich,
aboard his charter boat, Reel Pleasure III, here in late July. ‘But
fishing pressure is way down. People hear there are nets out there,
and they just stay away. They don’t want to take a chance on losing
all their gear.’

The nets – 15 or 16 of them from Big Sable Point to Manistee –
are placed by commercial fishers who are members of the Little
River Band of Ottawa Indians. The tribe also owns the popular
Little River Casino Resort.

Trolling near nets is risky business. Tangling downrigger
weights and cables in the nets can result, at best, in the loss of
expensive downrigger weights, cables, and, most expensive of all,
remote sensing equipment.

Given the wrong weather conditions, fouling could even anchor
the boat stern-first into the waves, where it could be swamped.

Some sport anglers have been reported to keep side-cutters handy
in the stern of their boats to severe cables quickly if needed.

Of the two kinds of nets currently set off Manistee, trap nets
are most troublesome to anglers.

Chub nets are said to be in place in deeper waters. These
large-mesh gill nets work the bottom 20 feet of water 300 feet deep
and more. Thus, they’re less likely to befoul anglers.

Trap nets might best be imagined from above.

According to diagrams and descriptions posted on-line by
Michigan Sea Grant (www.miseagrant.umich.edu/nets/trapnets), a trap
net traces a pattern something like the inner lines of a 1960s-era
peace sign, with the forks usually opening toward the
shoreline.

Those forks lead fish to enter an enclosure, called a ‘house,’
at the junction of the three arms.

The house and the shoreward end of the 1,000-foot-long center
prong of the fork are marked with a staff-mounted flag. A marker
jug also usually floats near the house, and the wing-like arms
often are marked with jugs or buoys, as well.

Theoretically, one could fish over either kind of net, if one
avoided the lines leading to flags and other markers. Most of the
trap nets rise about 40 feet from the bottom, Scharich said. But
one of them is said to be 60 feet tall, and no one seems sure which
one. So, trollers must assume they all are.

It’s best, most agree, to simply avoid the nets.

Sea Grant offers simple advice to anglers: ‘Avoid passing
between buoys,’ and ‘give wide berth as they have many anchor lines
extending out in all directions from the net.’

For a head start on net avoidance, fishermen swap information
about their locations. Net locations are posted on the web page of
Manistee Area Charter Boats, www.fishmanistee.com.

Some net locations on the charter boat website also include the
depth range of the nets.

But locations can and do change from day to day. Sport trollers’
best bets are to keep up to date with web info, listen for updates
on VHF radio traffic, and give wide berth to markers and buoys.

Trollers typically refer to specific nets by the ‘minutes’
portion of their latitude in GPS-style designation. One located at
N 44.15.4 x W 86-25.3, for example, would be said to be ‘in the
15s’ in radio discussions.

Scharich said local sport fishers and charter captains were
hoping for a ‘safe zone’ of no nets within 3 or 4 miles of the
harbor, where most of the fishing takes place, but so far, that
hasn’t been established.

For several weeks, net discussions in Manistee extended to
discussions of the annual Manistee Splash fishing derby in late
July.

The casino had donated money to support the tournament, and
anglers unhappy about the nets decided to boycott the Splash and
hold their own event.

That led tourney officials to return the donation to the casino,
and the Splash was expected to take place as originally
planned.

The net issue’s a hassle for charter operators, but they’re able
to keep up to date on net locations and steer clear of them.
Scharich’s charter calendar is booked solid through Labor Day, he
said.

But Scharich also operates Shipwatch Marina, and he said
business, as well as river and lake traffic, is down there.

Which is a shame, he said, when the fishing’s good and the nets
are avoidable.

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