Ban on chumming is rescinded by the DNR

Grand Rapids, Mich. — Fishing with loose salmon or steelhead eggs will again become legal April 1, the start of Michigan’s 2012 fishing season. State fish managers have reversed the 2007 decision to prohibit the practice. They now say there is little reason to keep the rule on the books. Viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a fish disease that causes massive die-offs, did not become the problem everyone feared.

“VHS is still out there and we are testing hundreds of inland and Great Lakes locations,” said Jim Dexter, acting fisheries chief for the Michigan DNR. “But we’ve seen a very low number of occurrences and felt the probability of spread by this method was low enough to not be an issue of concern.”

Anglers are lauding the decision. Many say there was no good reason to stop the practice.

“Five years ago, I said it was one of the most ridiculous things I’d heard,” said Steve Hutchins, of Cedar Springs, an angler and fishing guide. “You are going to tell me that throwing a handful of eggs is doing potential harm, while there are 5,000 salmon upstream dropping millions of eggs in the water?

“I am pleased they are changing the rule back. It’s the right thing to do. It affects the whitefish guys too, not just the steelheaders.”

Chumming, the practice of priming a fishing hole with corn or other bait, has been legal, according to Dexter. Only fish eggs were restricted by the 2007 rule change. That decision was part of the state’s VHS control strategy, a way to slow down or control the transport of bait between infected and uninfected waters.

VHS has been found in lakes Huron and St. Clair, the St. Clair and Detroit rivers, Lake Erie and its tributaries, Budd Lake in Clare County, and Baseline Lake in Washtenaw County.

The 2007 rule didn’t eliminate fishing with spawn, but it did require that eggs be attached to a hook or attached in a spawn sack or a skein of eggs. The latter drew catcalls from a number of anglers.

“The law was stupid,” said John Hojnacki, of Croton. “You could use a spawn skein the size of a softball as long as it was attached to a hook, but if you scraped off three or four eggs it was against the law.

“I was all for it – I don’t want the fishery wiped out – until they said you could use all the skein you want,” he said.

Hojnacki fishes 100 days a year, often with spawn sacks. He said he is a good enough angler that he doesn’t need to chum.

“How many fish do you need?” Hojnacki said.

Hutchins, a member of the state’s coldwater committee, the group that advises the DNR about trout and salmon regulations, said he would chum with eggs now and then before the ban. He may resume doing so, but doesn’t rely on the practice. Not having that option available for five years made him a better fisherman, he said.

“If it’s a crutch, you need to go check your fishing skills,” Hutchins said.

Even with the ban in place, anglers continued to chum with eggs, Dexter said. Keeping the rule in place made no sense.

“The bait fishermen were really upset and kept on us and we said we would take a look at it again,” Dexter said. “We didn’t see the VHS we thought we would and decided the restriction wasn’t necessary.”
Hutchins said that decision reflects positively on the DNR.

“The DNR made a legitimate effort to please as many people as they could. They said it would be temporary and would be reviewed. They did it, and are changing the rule. (That) goes a long way to add to their credibility,” Hutchins said.

Dexter said the 2007 rules still restrict how minnows are fished. They must be attached to the hook and cannot be dumped in a lake. The state does not want anglers dumping baitfish into waters from where they were not collected. Certified, disease-free minnows are available from various bait outlets, but many also sell non-certified minnows, which can be a problem.

“Most of our disease rules are still in effect,” Dexter said. “Lake Huron is still classified as positive for VHS. Lake Superior is negative, and Lake Michigan is somewhere in between. We don’t want people transferring bait from one region to another.”

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