Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Voices from the Past: The Michigan Grayling, Part II

The Michigan Grayling, profiled in last weeks Voices from the Past, was once a common fish but soon found itself imperiled both by overfishing, destruction of natural habitat, and the introduction of invasive species. The last known Michigan Grayling to be caught was in 1935, leading the Ironwood Daily Globe to print its obituary four years later.

Epitaph of Michigan’s Grayling to be Written

As the closing of the 1939 fishing season brings to four years the period in which no authentic report has been made of a catch of Michigan grayling the writing of the epitaph of this almost legendary fish of early Michigan needs to be postponed no longer.

Last known catch of this “trout of the pines” was made in Otter River near Houghton though the grayling was properly the trout of lower Michigan as the brook trout was the trout of the Upper Peninsula. A gamey fish though it had a delicate mouth, graceful in motion, beautiful in its markings and when alive in its iridescent coloring particularly of the long wavy dorsal fin, the fish achieved a fame that brought anglers from far and wide to Michigan.

When lumbering began there are records of grayling being taken from the streams at dams by the wagon load. They disappeared with the timber. By 1880 they were gone from the Jordan and Boyne rivers. By the turn of the century their decline was well underway. Now they have a place with the passenger pigeon.

What caused extinction of the grayling is still something of a mystery. Destruction of the forest may have changed the nature of their streams too greatly. Log drives coincided with the spawning season and did much damage. Introduction of brook trout may have hastened the end though in England the two species live in the same waters. Overfishing had its influence. Because grayling took the hook readily, to the last fish in a pool, the species is considered unsuited to present day fishing pressure.

A few Montana grayling, a closely related fish if not the same species as some believe, are still planted in Michigan waters by the fish division of the Michigan department of conservation for experimental and sentimental reasons. Planting of about 20,000 were made in 1934, 1935 and 1937. There are now 60,000 fingerlings at Wolf Lake hatchery, hatched from eggs furnished by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, which will be planted in the spring of 1940.

-- Dr. Todd

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