MI: Bowfishing, spearing regulations revamped

Lansing – A proposal to revamp Michigan spearing and bowfishing regulations, including opening up about half the lakes currently closed to the fishing method, is getting mixed reviews.

The Bowfishing Association of Michigan calls the package "excellent," according to its president, Steve Winters, of Manistee. He said it increases the species bowfishers can take, and establishes year-round shooting.

But the rule proposal doesn't have the support of the pro-spearing Michigan Darkhouse Angling Association, even though it was part of the group that drafted it. It's not that the group is against the effort to simplify rules and expand spearing opportunities; it's that the measure doesn't go far enough.

"Our problem is with the (approximately 20) lakes still on the (closed-to-spearing) list," MDAA president Mike Holmes said in a phone interview with Michigan Outdoor News. "There's no difference between those and the lakes being taken off the list.

"It's discrimination," he said, adding that it reflects an anti-spearing bias of the DNR's Fisheries Division, one that the division has consistently denied.

The proposal, presented to the Natural Resources Commission in October and eligible for DNR Director Rodney Stokes' signature in November, reflects what the DNR calls "significant changes" aimed at simplifying spearing and bowfishing rules and increasing the diversity of fishing opportunities, all while protecting the resource.

The DNR's Fisheries Division in 2007 convened an internal spearing workgroup to devise a way to simplify spearing rules through new statutes.

Before that could happen, though, oversight for those rules moved from the Legislature to the DNR director (and not, Holmes pointed out, its Natural Resources Commission).

That, the department said in its memo to the commission, gave it the flexibility to consider "wholesale changes to spearing regulations," including bowfishing rules.

Biologists in each management unit were asked to review rules as they applied to their areas, and to suggest changes.

A draft rule package was prepared and presented to a group now known as the Warmwater Resources Advisory Council, which includes Fisheries Division personnel as well as invited representatives of stakeholders such as MDAA and BAM.

That council's work produced the package presented for information only at the NRC's October meeting, and eligible for action in November.

MDAA, although active in the meetings, is opposed to the package, Holmes said.

The new rules would, according to the memo, lengthen the season on many waters; expand the waters on which spearing and bowfishing are allowed; increase the types of gear that can be used; include in spearable species gizzard shad, goldfish, and grass carp; fold other regulations into the order, except those governing spearing of lake sturgeon; eliminate spearing in some waters because of management changes; and drop many restrictions and exceptions.

Specifically, the director's order, if approved, would allow spearing and bowfishing year-round in all waters except designated trout lakes and designated trout streams for bowfin, bullheads, burbot, carp, catfish, drum, gizzard shad, goldfish, grass carp, lake herring (cisco), longnose gar, smelt, sucker, and whitefish.

Spearing (with hand-held spear, through ice) for northern pike and muskellunge would be allowed Dec. 1 through March 15 on all waters except designated trout lakes and trout streams.

Lakes and impoundment floodwaters closed to pike and muskie spearing would include: Fletcher Floodwaters (Alpena County); Thornapple Lake (Barry); Caribou Lake (Chippewa); Budd Lake (Clare); Lake Ovid (Clinton); Brule, Chicagon, Pint, and Stanley lakes and Paint Pond (Iron); Campau and Murray lakes (Kent); Lake Gratiot (Keweenaw); Lake Hudson (Lenawee); Fletcher Floodwaters (Montmorency); Big Bear Lake (Otsego); Houghton Lake (Roscommon); Long Lake (St. Joseph); and Bankson and Round lakes (Van Buren).

Other proposed rules would include a spring ban on spears and gaffs on some northern Michigan rivers; a single trout stream opening to pike spearing through ice; and some designated trout streams open to spring spearing for so-called rough fish.

Muskie fishing would be limited to hook and line in lakes Erie and St. Clair, and the Detroit and St. Clair rivers.

Holmes said that at the request of his group, Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, wrote the DNR, asking that it not include the lake- and river-specific portions limiting spearing.

If approved in November, the rules would take effect April 1, 2012.

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