Drought periods may not bode well for steelhead runs, but low water flows during 2012 appear to have been very good for gamefish in the St. Joseph River.
That’s the observation of Daragh Deegan, aquatic biologist for the city of Elkhart.
Deegan spent a lot of time sampling the St. Joe last summer and was astounded with what he saw.
“In the 16 years we’ve been looking at bass on the St. Joe, 2012 produced the best growth rate and best spawn and survival of the young that we’ve ever seen,” Deegan noted.
In fact, he added, growth and fish production was up in just about every species he saw.
The reason? The biologist believes it is related to the low water velocity from the previous season.
“We know that fluctuating water levels in river systems decimate spawning beds,” he explained. “And of the fish that do spawn, the larvae can’t survive in those high water flows. We didn’t have that issue in 2012.”
It’s worth noting that the summer/fall steelhead run in 2012 was one of the worse. Moving water and cooler temperatures trigger Skamania to migrate upstream from Lake Michigan. We didn’t have that in 2012, but other fish benefited.
April showers bring May flowers, but they can play havoc with spawning fish. Deegan says smallmouth are notorious for abandoning beds in high-water periods. Largemouth bass have better spawning success because they spawn away from the current in backwaters and do a better job of protecting their young.
“When we had flooding in 2007-2008, we had a hard time finding young-of-the-year smallmouth the following spring and summer,” Deegan added.
Last year’s survey revealed a ton of young smallies.
It will be awhile before those bass reach trophy size. According to DNR biologist Neil Ledet, it takes a river smallmouth six years to reach 15 inches.