DNR completes habitat projects
Don’t overlook area trout streams
By Greg Seubert
When it comes to dropping a line in central Wisconsin, the Petenwell and Castle Rock flowages usually come to mind.
Wisconsin’s second- and sixth-largest bodies of water at 23,173 and 12,981 acres, respectively, are popular fishing destinations for walleye, musky and panfish.
However, the area’s trout streams shouldn’t be overlooked.
“No one really comes to Adams County to go trout fishing,” said Jason Spaeth, a DNR fisheries technician and trout habitat specialist based in Wisconsin Rapids. “There are streams in Adams County that I would put up against any stream in central Wisconsin. We have very good trout resources here and I think they’re underutilized.”
Spaeth has had a hand in several trout habitat improvement projects and said anglers have more opportunities than ever to hook into brooks, browns and rainbows.
“We’ve made it more accessible in areas where habitat improvement’s been done,” he said. “In my mind, the fishing is better in those areas. This year, we have really good numbers of trout from our shocking surveys we do in the fall. The numbers seem to be up from the last few years, so the fishing is going to be better in the future.
“We’ve made some streams more accessible in this area and that has allowed better access,” he said. “To me, the fishing is better because people can get to those spots now.”
One of the area’s success stories is Big Roche a Cri Creek, a Class 1 trout stream that starts in Waushara County and flows through Adams County before eventually flowing into the Castle Rock Flowage between Friendship and Necedah.
“The majority of my projects have focused on Adams County,” Spaeth said. “Big Roche a Cri had a big project done in 1979. 2012 was a major drought year and the water was down 18 inches. You could see all structures (from the 1979 project) had collapsed. There was wood laying everywhere.
“We determined that we should go in because it looked really bad,” he added. “We decided to do a maintenance project and started in the summer of 2014. We ripped a good majority of the existing structures out of there. I didn’t want to remove them all because it would make the bank more erodible.”
The project took 2 1/2 years to complete, which is not unusual for major habitat work.
“It created a lot more overhead cover,” Spaeth said. “A lot of streams around here are shallow and sandy. The only overhead cover is pretty much tag alder that’s hanging over the stream, grass or dogwood. Trout need overhead cover to survive.
“A lot of times, our first thing is to cut the brush and make trails,” he said. “Then winter sets in and that’s when we haul our materials. We do most of our work in stream from May 15 to Sept. 15. It’s very time-consuming and we only have a crew of three people.”
Trout are no longer stocked in Adams County, according to Jennifer Bergman, a DNR fisheries biologist also based in Wisconsin Rapids.
“It’s all natural reproduction,” she said. “Brown trout were stocked in Big Roche a Cri Creek starting in 1972 and were pretty much stocked annually through 2015. That was discontinued because we caught our first young-of-the-year brown trout, showing natural reproduction. We want to preserve that.”
One of this year’s major projects included restoring more than 6,000 feet of Flume Creek near Rosholt in Portage County.
“The stream bank was so choked with tag alder that you could barely see the stream,” Spaeth said. “We couldn’t even shock it. We did another project on Fordham Creek in Adams County. We brushed 30 feet back on both banks removing tag alder. Our goal is to get grasses to grow. We’ll have to maintain that brush by cutting it every fall.”
Habitat improvement is an important component of the DNR’s trout management program, Bergman said.
“It adds so much habitat complexity to these Central Sands streams,” she said. “In some of the streams where we haven’t done trout habitat work, it’s just sand and it’s almost like a water slide. What we do is adds so much more complexity and habitat diversity for different sizes of trout to use and for their food base to have a place. Not only does Jason add overhead structure, he’ll add some plunge pools, logs and boulders. All of that habitat complexity is great.”
It can also be expensive.
“If it’s a Class 3 trout stream, we’re probably just going to do brushing that’s not very expensive,” Spaeth said. “Brushing a mile on the Flume only cost $1,152 and that was with two limited-term employees working. You start buying rock and lumber, that’s where your cost shoots up.”
“Jason does a good job of prioritizing which streams and projects come next,” Bergman said. “This year, he didn’t have a huge, major in-stream project. We typically focus on good, quality trout water and where we can see the biggest bang for our buck not only for the trout population, but for fishermen. If we see that there’s potential to make a marginal trout water into high-quality trout water, we’d definitely consider a project.”
So what’s on the docket for 2018?
Work will likely begin on streams with recently purchased easements.
“We’re not buying land, we’re buying a stream bank protection easement,” Bergman said. “What we basically do is purchase the rights on 66 feet on each side of the stream. We purchase the right for the public to access the stream, to walk along the stream. We have the right then to do habitat work.”
The DNR recently purchased an easement along another Adams County trout stream, Fordham Creek.
“One of my future projects will be on the Fordham next year or the year after,” Spaeth said. “We have other brushing projects in Juneau County that I would like to do on easements that we just acquired. It’s kind of nice to at least do something for them to show the easement that they gave us is worthwhile.”
Numbers look good
Jake Thompson, a DNR fisheries biologist based in Wausau, oversees trout surveys on central Wisconsin trout waters, including the popular Tomorrow River, which begins in northern Portage County before its name changes to the Waupaca River at the Portage/Waupaca county line.
“Numbers have been pretty steady and increasing in most of the streams that we survey,” he said. “The amount of young-of-year that we saw this year is way up compared to previous years. That bodes well for the next few years. Numbers are definitely trending up and not down.”
That includes the Tomorrow.
“The young-of-year out there this year was phenomenal,” he said.
The river flows through Amherst, between Stevens Point and Waupaca. A recent drawdown of the village’s millpond caused several fish from the impoundment to head downstream toward Waupaca.
The river’s best trout fishing is found upstream from Amherst in the Nelsonville area, Thompson said.
“I would go upstream (from Amherst) for sure,” he said. “Prior to the millpond being drawn down, there was definitely a temperature change happening there. If you’re targeting brook trout, you aren’t going to want to go below Amherst. Nelsonville is loaded with fish.”
Besides Big Roche a Cri and Fordham creeks in Adams County and Flume Creek and the Tomorrow in Portage County, DNR crews also surveyed Neenah and Campbell creeks in Adams County and Emmons Creek in Portage County.
“We’ll see browns up to and over 20 (inches) and brook trout over 12 inches,” Thompson said.