Indiana Will Stock 150,000 More Kings in the Spring


The Indiana DNR has announced plans to add another 150,000 chinook (king) salmon in Indiana waters next spring as part of a lake-wide stocking increase.

Indiana, like all states, is limited to a stocking quota called “Chinook salmon equivalents,” a formula devised by the Lake Michigan Committee. The formula converts the impact of each trout and salmon species on the forage base to that of a Chinook salmon.

Scientists say that during its lifetime, one Chinook will consume as much food as 3.2 cohos, 2.4 steelhead, 2.2 brown trout and 2.3 lake trout.

The committee, consisting of fish managers around the lake, has recommended up to 450,000 stocking increases in Chinook salmon equivalents. That doesn’t mean the entire increase will be made up of Chinooks; some states may add other species, or as Indiana is doing, cut some species and increase Chinook stockings.

Fish managers bordering Lake Michigan believe the forage base has come back enough to accommodate those increases.

The added Chinooks will raise Indiana’s contributions to about where they were before it made cuts in 2016-17. However, to balance the stocking program, the DNR will cut some coho and steelhead stockings in those tributaries west of South Bend.

“The trade-off allows us to double the size of the fall coho run and get back to where we were with Chinooks,” said Lake Michigan Biologist Ben Dickinson.

None of the changes will impact the St. Joseph River stocking. In addition, the St. Joe won’t be a recipient of Indiana Chinook stockings.

Trail Creek, The Little Calumet River and East Chicago will see fall coho stockings eliminated, and replaced with spring stockings that offer fewer, yet larger cohos that yield better survival rates. They also will get a good chunk of Chinook stockings as well.

The strategy of replacing the fall coho fingerlings with fewer spring fish was implemented on the St. Joe a few years ago, and it produced remarkable results. More and bigger fish returned to the St. Joe when those fish matured.

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In addition, Indiana won’t continue summer-run Skamania steelhead stockings in the Little Calumet or Salt Creek.

“The Little Cal (water) gets too hot for the steelhead to run up there, and there is negligible fishing effort for steelhead on the Cal or Salt Creek during summer months,” said Lake Michigan Biologist Ben Dickinson. “The stocking changes in cohos and Chinooks should really improve the fall fishery in those streams.”

One thing is certain: The Chinook fishery has improved substantially since the stocking reduction two years ago. The fish have been considerably larger than they were a decade ago, a sign they have been getting plenty to eat.

Scientists say the forage base—mostly alewives—has shown some recovery since the 2017 stocking reductions. Meanwhile, there has been a lot of public pressure to produce more Chinooks in light of the improvements in fish size and forage base numbers.

But are these increases a bit premature?

Let’s not forget that fish managers have documented substantial natural reproduction within the Chinook population.

“Anglers should realize increasing stocking does increase the pressure on forage base, and the risk of depressing forage base populations,” said Dickinson. “Fish managers are monitoring this; The Lake Michigan Committee believes the lake can support a modest increase, and we are all cautiously optimistic.”

Dickinson said the stocking plan could be adjusted after a series of public meetings to be scheduled this winter. He also hopes to create an Indiana Angler Advisory Committee to solicit angler input for a long-term plan in the future.

“It’s still in concept phase, but the committee would include stream, pier, boat and charter anglers who have an interest in the fishery,” Dickinson said.