Monthly Archives: August 2017

Little Spots at West Point

Maybe we should have tried bows and blowguns at West Point last Sunday. In the August Spalding County Sportsman Club tournament nine members managed to land 12 keeper spots weighing about 13 pounds at West Point. We did not weigh in even one largemouth. There were no limits and five of the nine fishermen did not have a keeper.

Randall Sharpton won with four spots weighing 4.62 pounds, my four weighing 4.35 pounds placed second and I had big fish with a 1.62-pound spot, Zane Fleck had three at 3.70 pounds for third and Russel Prevatt was fourth with one weighing .98 pounds. That was it, all the fish that were caught!

I knew it was going to be a tough day and it started wrong. I had to be tournament director since Sam did not fish. I thought I was late getting my boat in the water but when JR. Proctor and I idled out to the no-wake buoys at 6:30 for blast off everybody else was still tied up at the dock or standing around talking in the parking lot.

The first place I stopped was on a rocky point and I tried everything from topwater to shaky head worms without a bite. We next eased over to a deep bank with blow down trees and I got a bite. When I set the hook my line broke, something that should never happen. I think the jig head had bumped against the rocks and gotten a weak place in the line. I should have checked my line.

I retied and soon caught my biggest fish. Then I got a bite in a tree top and set the hook. The fish wrapped my line around a branch and I could see it but it came off before I could get to it.

I did find some fish feeding on a shallow point and landed my other keepers and several short fish there. But I had another keeper that looked bigger than my biggest jump and throw a jig and pig. It was just not meant for me to catch a limit. But several others said they also lost fish.

I can’t wait for cooler weather and, hopefully, fish biting better!

What Are Wind Knots and How Can I Stop Them?

A Cure for Wind Knots
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

Microwave guides have been around for a few years but somehow I never got around to buying a rod built with them, even though I was a friend of Doug Hannon, the inventor. Doug, gone much too soon, is remembered as “The Bass Professor”, a name I saddled him with in a story in Outdoor Life Magazine nearly four decades ago. He came up with the weedless trolling motor prop, the Wave Spin reel and many other patented angling inventions.

The Microwave system includes a unique “guide within a guide” that funnels the broad loops from the spinning reel spool down to a small passage which Hannon said was key not only to casting distance, but also to reducing the “wind knots” that are a frequent problem in some open-faced spinning setups.

Don Morse, head rod builder for American Tackle, which sells the Microwave guides, is one of their chief advocates. It should be noted that American Tackle sells a wide variety of premium guides, so Morse has no particular ax to grind in pushing Microwaves.

“Line comes off a spinning reel in these huge loops on a cast, and those loops, we can see in high speed video, remain in the line and drag across the lower guides well up the rod on a conventional spinning rod,” says Morse. “The high-speed video shows that with the Microwave system, all that looping comes out on the first guide, and the line runs straight through the other guides and out the tip-top from there. It cuts drag, it cuts vibration, and it really makes for a much smoother, more accurate cast.”

Another consideration is the reduction of wind-knots, which under some conditions can drive anglers nuts. Particularly when throwing jerkbaits and topwaters, the constant slacking and then jerking of rod and line create an ideal situation for loops to form around the guides. Wind knots form when an extra loop of line comes off the lip of the spool ahead of the running line.

If the Microwave guide system can eliminate these knots, that alone would make them worth using on specialty rods dedicated to jerkbait and topwater fishing, for those anglers who prefer spinning gear to baitcasting.

I had an opportunity to test one of these rods recently, with 9 of the Microwave guides mounted on a 7’2″ Bushido Warrior graphite blank in medium power, medium-fast tip. I put in a couple of four-hour mornings working over the bass at Lake Guntersville, in northeast Alabama, with this rod mounted with a Shimano Symetre in the 2500 size loaded with 10-pound-test Power Pro, throwing an assortment of topwaters and jerkbaits between a half ounce and 3/4 ounce.

I got a wind knot on maybe the third cast of the first morning, realized I had too much line on the spool, cut off about 50 feet, and then went on to never see another wind knot in the two mornings of casting and jerking. I don’t normally get many wind knots because of habits I’ve had beaten into me by a lot of good anglers, including closing the bail manually, but I do get some–the Microwave guide setup appeared to be an improvement over the conventional rod I had been using for this duty. The casts were smooth and accurate, and the guides do a good job of bringing out the power of the blank in fighting fish. They’re also light enough to make a nice balance with the 2500-size reel on a Fuji handle.

The guide set is fairly pricey, $49.95 for 8 microguides, the Microwave main “funnel” guide and the tip top. This is in line with top-quality Fuji and other premium guides, but it definitely adds to the price of the finished rod. You generally won’t see Microwave guides on value-priced tackle–they’re usually coupled with top-shelf blank and handle. To learn more about these guides, visit

Making Bows and Arrows and Stone Axes

Bows and arrows fascinated me when I was growing up. We searched woods and fields for arrowheads and were constantly on the look-out for any rock that resembled one. Most of what we found were just random pieces of rock somewhat arrowhead shaped but we were sure we had found something once used to take down game.

At six years old I really did not understand differences between kinds of rocks. Our farm had a lot of soft sandstone, a good bit of granite from chunk to boulder size, and a few flint rocks.

The sandstone would break easily and there were all kinds of shapes of stones. I now know it is easy to shape but too soft to be of much use for anything but crushing softer stuff. But we thought arrowheads could be made of that reddish rock.

It was easy to shape it by breaking off small pieces and even by rubbing it on the granite boulders. It did not flake, it just came apart as small pieces and sandy residue. And an ax head made from it would break as soon as you hit a tree with it.

Looking back its funny, but we tried to make stone axes by shaping rocks with the blunt end of our steel hatchets. Talk about going backwards! And getting a stone chunk to stay on any kind of handle was a joke. We tried the way we had seen in pictures, splitting a stick handle, putting the stone between in the split then lashing it into place with baling twine.

Little did we know you needed something much tighter than that twine could be tied. If lashed on with leather strips then soaked in water, the leather shrank as it dried and got very tight. With our home made stone axes the head often flew off the handle before the head could hit the tree and crumble.

We did make some realistic looking arrowheads from the sandstone but did not realize they would have been useless. No matter how carefully we worked the edges could never be sharp. Flint flakes into sharp edges when chipped, sandstone merely gets rounded on the edges. But we had fun making our axes and arrowheads.

Bows and arrows were interesting, too. We thought any bent stick with a string on each end would suffice but, if the stick did not break when bent back, it had no strength to spring back to propel an arrow. And baling twine was probably not the best bow string.

Any somewhat straight stick could be an arrow, but they never worked. We did not know about wetting and heating sticks and straightening them. We just used them how they grew, and sweetgum, the most common type tree on our farm, is useless for bows and arrows.

Trips to the north Georgia mountains on summer vacation introduced me to blowguns, something Cherokees used for hunting small game. The ones we bought at tourist traps were about three feet long and came with a couple of rubber tipped darts. They never worked well, having a range of just a few feet.

We tried to make them, too, with pieces of cane that grew along Dearing Branch. It did not take long to give up trying to hollow them out by boring through each joint. If daddy had made me work as hard on the farm as I did working on blowguns I would not have liked it. But again, it was fun trying to make them.

I sometimes wonder if kids have any experiences like those I had growing up. I hope so.

Good News On Gun Control After the Eclipse

Good News On Gun Control and After the Eclipse

Jim Shepherd
from The Fishing Wire

We’re only hours away from the great solar eclipse of 2017, but that’s not the only thing happening in our world today (unfortunately). Although it’s still craziness as usual in Washington, it appears a ray of sanity has injected itself into Arizona’s dual-minded arguments over guns.

This is what the solar eclipse later today will look like – if you have NASA’s technology and know-how. The rest of us will likely see it in a different light. NASA photo with permission.
Last week, Arizona’s Supreme Court ruled – unanimously, no less- that cities, towns and counties have no right to enact their own gun regulations. That decision voids a 2005 Tucson ordinance that says when a police department obtains a gun through a seizure or surrender, the agency “shall dispose of such firearm by destroying the firearm.”

That’s in contradiction to state law, and the Arizona high court says that’s a no-no. Technically speaking, the ruling upholds SB 1487 a 2016 law that allows individual lawmakers to direct the Attorney General’s Office to investigate claims that run contrary to state statutes.

In fact, SB 1487 triggers an automatic investigation that can lead to the city losing half its shared state revenues. The 2005 Tucson ordinance mandating destruction of seized firearms came under that investigation after a state lawmaker used SB 1487 to complain.

Arizona state law bars enforcement agencies from destroying operable seized weapons and direct they be sold, not destroyed.

The implications for Arizona’s 19 charter cities is clear: they do not have the constitutional right to enact their own absolute laws -and in many cases the Arizona legislature will have the last word. Simply stated, except in narrow instances, in conflicts between state and local ordinances, the local ordinances fail.

Now, about that darkness…..

Emergency management personnel are on high alert across the country (seriously), preparing to deal with, well, whatever happens when the solar eclipse starts to race across the country in only a couple of hours (Actually, it’s scheduled to begin just after 9:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time).

Before it passes off the South Carolina coast just after 4:00 P.M. Eastern time, millions of Americans will have taken time out of their Monday to see what happens when the moon blocks the rays of the sun across a 14-state swath of the country. And everyone from the USFWS to the Audubon Society is anxiously waiting to see what wildlife will do when darkness happens hours ahead of schedule.

Will the birds nest? Will the fish stop biting? Will mosquitoes emerge -only to be fried to a crisp when the sun reemerges (sorry, wishful thinking on my part..nothing kills mosquitoes during summer in the south)?

Actually, no one’s exactly sure how wildlife will behave. But officials have some idea how the people who have jammed the path of the eclipse across the country will behave. They’ve ramped up emergency services, rented portable toilet facilities and agree with the advice offered by Oregon officials -especially when you’re dealing with the same kind of congestion you face during any big event.

Here’s the advice if you’re out to watch the eclipse in the path of totality: “Arrive early, stay put and leave late!”

Seriously, officials are already reporting congestion and crowds in advance of the eclipse, but it’s only expected to worsen throughout the day.

Here’s some very simple advice: make certain you have plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, have fuel for your vehicle, and be patient.

And if you’re out to observe the eclipse, we’d really like your perspective on the whole thing. You can send your images and observations to and we’ll do some coordinating and sharing between our readers.

We’re especially interested in how the wildlife behaves, but don’t feel like you’re limited- if it’s interesting to you, it will probably be interesting to others.

One final word of caution: please don’t risk serious- and potentially permanent- eye damage by trying to watch the eclipse with your naked eye or through an unfiltered camera lens. Use the pinhole viewer, watch online or borrow a pair of #14 (the minimal safe number) pair of welder’s goggles.

Stay safe- and remember, we’ll keep you posted.

Hot, Tough Fishing At Clarks Hill

We should have used spottails or some other live bait at Clarks Hill last weekend. In the Flint River Bass Club August two day tournament, six members fished for 15 hours to land 21 keeper bass weighing about 29 pounds. There was one five-bass limit and one member did not catch a keeper in the two days. It was hot, tough fishing at Clarks Hill.

I won with seven bass weighing 10.46 pounds, Travis Weatherly was second with four weighing 8.32 pounds and big fish of 3.69 pounds, Chuck Croft was third with six weighing 6.58 pounds and Alex Gober places fourth with three at 3.31 pounds.

I made a lucky guess and started on a bridge riprap Saturday morning at 6:05. I caught my first keeper at 6:10 and had five at 6:35, all on a spinnerbait. Then, for the next 7.5 hours, I landed three more keepers. I was shocked at weigh-in that I had five, Chuck had two and nobody else had caught a keeper in eight hours.

Sunday I started at the bridge and caught keepers on back to back cast at 6:20. One of them was a good bass weighing 3.21 pounds. Although I fished hard until weigh-in I never caught another fish.

It was a better day for others. Travis caught his four on Sunday after not catching a fish on Saturday and Alex got his three after zeroing the first day. All five of the other guys stayed at a cabin at Soap Creek and I stayed 17 miles away in my mobile home at Raysville Boat Club. Maybe they shared information!

I got really frustrated Sunday. It was miserably hot, without a cloud in the sky, contrary to what the weather guessers predicted, and there was no breeze. Even worse I broke my line three times when setting the hook, something that should never happen.

The first happened when I was fishing down a shady bank and saw a big rock in about three feet of water. I pitched my shaky head worm to it, felt a thump and set the hook, breaking my line. I figured my line was over the rock and got cut.

Later out on a rock pile on an old road bed I was bouncing my bait through the rocks felt a bite and again broke my line when setting the hook. I again figured it was cut the rocks so I retied and it happened again a few minutes later.

I switched to heavier line to try to stop that from happening again but never got another bite!

Waterproof Spinning Reels

Waterproof Spinning Reels Promise Long Life
By Frank Sargeant
from The Fishing Wire

For anglers who wade or fish from kayaks, in particular, the affordable new Tsunami Shield spinning reel is likely to become a favorite primarily because it’s engineered with a series of 10 seals that the manufacturer says will make the interior parts permanently waterproof so long as the seals are intact.

As all who wade-fish or cast the surf regularly are aware, there’s no way a reel is not going to get dunked occasionally. Fresh water does minimal harm if it’s not loaded with mud and if allowed to dry out, but a saltwater soaking, even once, assures big trouble if the reel is not completely disassembled and re-lubed. Simply rinsing won’t do it. If internal corrosion gets started, the reel’s days are numbered.

Tackle used in kayaks, which sits just inches above the water, is also subject to a whole lot of water exposure.

Those who fish spinning tackle offshore also run into this problem. Reels used in open water boats are unlikely to get fully submerged, but they may get hit with heavy salt spray all the way out and all the way back–few center console boats really keep the spray out of the cockpit on a hard run upwind on a bumpy day. The sealing system should give the Shield reels a huge advantage in all these situations if it works as advertised.

The screws are all secured with LocTite, which assures that they stay put through a lot of hard use and vibration in the boat. (To remove the side plates for annual cleaning, a special tool is required–it’s provided in the box.)

There are some other reels that also are designated waterproof but they are very expensive, including the Shimano Stella, which goes for almost $800(!) and several from Van Staal, starting at $450. Daiwa’s Saltiga line, similarly pricey, advertises sealed bearings, rather than sealing the entire reel. The Tsunami Shield, a made-in-China reel, obviously lacks some of the features of these high-end reels, but it’s a whole lot more affordable, with the 3000 and 4000 sizes $99.99, the 5000 and 6000 $109.99. Whether you could take the Tsunami with you to swim a bait out through the surf, as some have done with the Van Staal models, remains to be seen, but for the difference in price they are definitely worth a try.

They’re built to handle some serious drag, as well, with up to 20 pounds of pressure in the 3000 and 4000 sizes, which makes the reels good for bass fishing in heavy weeds and for handling reef species around cover. For those who take on big-running fish like bonefish and permit on the flats or kings offshore, the drag is butter smooth and starts without any tendency to stick, even at heavier settings.

They have five bearings, compared to nine in a $389.95 Shimano Sustain 3000, but they’re very smooth in operation and the all-aluminum frame should keep everything well aligned and functioning right for years. They are somewhat heavier than some more expensive models, at 9.5 ounces for the 3000 model, compared to 8.3 ounces for the Sustain 3000, a minimal difference but perhaps a point to consider for all-day anglers. For details on the Shield, see

Getting Bait

Getting bait was always fun but sometimes we tried weird baits. Like all good fishermen, if we heard the fish were biting something we had to try it. That is why there are such huge selections of colors and types of plugs and worms at Berry’s Sporting Goods!

One time this desire to use anything we were told fish were biting taught me a lesson. Uncle Slaton and his family was visiting from Texas and we were all camping at Clarks Hill. As usual, we fished for bass, bream or crappie during the day and ran trotlines at night for catfish.

One afternoon Uncle Slaton came back to the camp from fishing and pulled out a nice catfish. He said he was fishing in a cove and found a trotline. The catfish was on it and since the line had not been checked all day he took the fish.

More important, he held up a half of a black plastic worm. He said it was on the hook the catfish was on and the rest of the line was baited with other pieces of black worms.

We immediately pulled out all our black plastic worms and started cutting them up. That night we baited all our trotlines with them. The next morning we didn’t have a fish on our lines.

I do not know how Uncle Slaton smothered his laughs. He later told us he played a trick on us, there were no plastic worms on any of the hooks where he found the catfish.

We had to go to the store and buy more black worms for our bass fishing.

One time I heard catfish would bite little chunks of Ivory Soap. That sounded like a nice clean bait to use rather than the stinky chicken guts we usually used. You washed your hands every time you baited a hook.

We cut bars of soap into half inch squares and baited a bunch of hooks – one time. We did not catch a fish. I may be slow but after one night I gave up on black plastic worms and Ivory Soap on trotlines!

Spottail minnows are one of the best baits for many game fish, no joke. Guides on Lanier and other lakes bait up places with rice to draw them in and either set out traps for them or catch them in a cast net. Spotted bass love them.

The biggest spottails I have ever seen were less than three inches long, a good size for most game fish. Last weekend Jack “Zero” Ridgeway called me about them. He had been fishing from a dock at West Point lake and had caught some spottails six inches long. He sent me a picture of one of them.

Neither of us had ever heard of spottails that big, and that would bite a bait so you could catch them on a hook. I looked them up and found out that spottails are a type of shiner minnow and their average size is two to three inches, but they can grow up to six inches long. They range from Canada as far south as the Chattahoochee River drainage in Georgia. Since West Point is on the Chattahoochee River that fits right in.

Shark Fishing Tips

Shark Fishing Tips from NY DEC
from The Fishing Wire

Sharks are some of the sea’s most well-known but misunderstood inhabitants. They simultaneously provoke fascination and hysteria wherever they appear. Excessive fear of their ferocity and aggression has tainted people’s relationship with sharks, threatening their populations around the globe.

Sharks belong to the class of cartilaginous fishes that also includes rays and skates. They are primitive fishes whose skeletons lack true bones and instead are made of cartilage, the same material our ears and nose are made of.

There are over 500 species of sharks known through the world and are found in all seas, from near shore estuaries to the open ocean beyond the continental shelf. They are found in temperate, tropical and arctic latitudes as well as depths up to 6,000 feet.

New York’s marine waters are home to a variety of native shark species, as well as migratory species during the warmer months. During shark week, we will explore some of the lesser known sharks species found in New York’s marine waters and celebrate this misunderstood ocean predator.

‘Sharking’ in New York

Today, recreational and tournament anglers go shark fishing, also known as ‘sharking.’ Before heading out to try your luck at sharking, you must first register with the Recreational Marine Fishing Registry and apply for a federal Highly Migratory Species (HMS) permit

When fishing for sharks, you should be able to identify what species you are prohibited from taking. For a list of shark species you are prohibited from taking, as well as those you are allowed to take, visit Saltwater Fishing Regulations for Sharks.

If you catch a prohibited shark species while fishing from shore, please do not drag the shark onto the beach. If you hook a prohibited shark species you must return the shark to the water at once, without unnecessary injury to the shark. The easiest way to do this is to cut your leader as closely to the hook (as safely as practicable), while the shark is still in the water. Non-stainless circle hooks will rust free from the shark’s mouth in a short period of time.

For best practices, view NOAA’s Atlantic Recreational Shark Fishing: Handling and Release of Prohibited Species video.

If you’re going shark fishing please be familiar with prohibited shark species, and always follow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) guidance, “If you don’t know, let it go!” For more information on how to identify shark species, visit NOAA’s Atlantic Shark website.

When fishing for sharks with baited hooks, you are required to use non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks.

Non-stainless steel hooks deteriorate over time, reducing harm to a fish if you are unable to retrieve the hook. A circle hook’s point is turned back toward the shank, forming a semi-circle shape. A circle hook is preferred to a J-hook for sharking. A circle hook is more likely to lodge in a shark’s mouth. A J-hook is more likely to be swallowed and damage a shark’s internal organs.

Keep your circle hook’s point in line with the shank. When a hook’s point bends sideways away from the shank, it becomes offset. Offset hooks can potentially injure a shark when you are removing the hook.

Ecological Role

Sharks have been roaming the seas for over 400 million years, predating the dinosaurs! They have survived many mass extinctions, including the event that extinguished the dinosaurs about 6 million years ago. Sharks have survived successfully for so long due to their ability to evolve. As a result, sharks have become the ocean’s top predators, also known as apex predators. Most sharks are aggressive apex predators that consume fish, turtles and marine mammals. The exceptions are the whale sharks, the basking sharks and the megamouth sharks, which are all filter feeders that consume plankton.

Apex predators are at the top of the food chain and generally have no natural predators. They play a vital role in maintaining a healthy population of organisms they prey upon. Ecosystems are extremely complex. Even small changes can have significant consequences in a variety of ways. Removing or reducing the population of an apex predator has the potential to upset the population balance of both prey and predators. This can have far-reaching negative consequences throughout the ecosystem.

Sharks had always been the apex predators of the oceans, until humans began refining our ability to harvest marine resources. Technology has improved many aspects of human life, but it has also given us the capacity to over-harvest finite resources.

Shark Conservation

Historically, sharks have largely been an underutilized resource in North America. Small, limited fisheries have existed for many years in areas along the U.S. coast. Large, well organized fisheries have occurred occasionally, but have been relatively rare and short lived.

The earliest known local commercial shark fisheries on the east coast occurred in the 1930s using long lines, chain nets and gill nets. Most of these fisheries were near shore and localized. Sharks were mainly harvested for their liver oil for the production of vitamin A and their hides for leather. Prior to the 1970s, there was little utilization of shark meat for human consumption in the U.S. Improvements in methods for handling sharks at sea, along with a marketing program promoted by the government, increased demand and consumption of sharks. Today, commercial fishing for sharks uses primarily long lines and gill nets.

Recreational fishing along the U.S. east coast was popularized in the 1970s. Advances in boat construction, efficiency and size of marine engines, fishing tackle and electronics technology, along with the ability of the public to purchase and own boats, made shark fishing much more accessible to recreational fisherman.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) finalized a fishery management plan and began managing the U.S. shark fishery in 1993. Measures adopted included commercial quotas, a commercial observer program, regulations regarding the retention of shark fins in proper proportion to carcasses, recreational bag limits, and prohibition of sale of recreationally caught sharks. As sharks continued to be overfished, subsequent addendums in later years included size limits for both recreational and commercial fisheries, permitting and reporting requirements, expansion of the observer program and limited commercial access.

*Special thanks to all our photograph contributors.* Many organizations who helped us with photographs are conducting exceptional work in shark research and conservation. For more information on how DEC administers permits for research and handling of native New York shark species, visit our Special Licenses Page.

Yet Another Tough July Sinclair Tournament

Last Sunday 12 members and guests of the Spalding County Sportsman Club fished our July tournament at Lake Sinclair. We landed 24 keeper bass weighing about 29 pounds. There were two five-bass limits and two zeros.

Raymond English found the big one and a limit to place far out in front with 11.0 pounds and big fish of 5.81. My little limit weighing 5.15 pounds was second, third went to Jay Gerson with four keepers weighing 3.93 pounds and Robert Proctor was fourth with two at 3.92 pounds.

At least I am consistent. The weekend before I had five weighing 5.19 pounds. I caught all five of my keepers on a weightless Senko skipped under docks. The first one, my biggest, hit at the end of a dock about six feet deep at about 8:00 AM. After that I was surprised at how shallow the rest of the fish were.

At about 10:00 AM I was going between two docks along a shallow bank. The riprap dropped to about two feet deep and the water was clear enough to see the bottom where they ended. I cast the Senko to a little grass patch on the rocks and caught a short fish, then a few feet further I landed another one about 11 inches long.

At a patch of shade from the seawall I saw my line move out as the Senko sank. I figured it was another small bass and may not have set the hook hard enough. As soon as I set the hook a two pound plus bass flashed in the water. I fought it almost to the boat and it just came unhooked.

As I approached the next dock I saw a man and his dog come out of the house and head toward the dock and I figured he was going to fuss at me, so I started moving past it. But he was very friendly, asking me how I was doing and pointing to where his brush piles were underwater.

I got the far side of the dock and skipped the Senko under the walkway and caught my second keeper. Then, as I worked toward the next dock he said right where is banana plant grew on the seawall was a good place. I had passed it but threw back and landed my third keeper. It should have gotten off, as I lifted it over the side it came unhooked, hit the top of the gunnel and fell into the boat.

I caught one each on the next two docks, landing my fifth at about 11:20. That was it, I never hooked anther fish before the 2:00 weigh-in.

Detroit River Fishing

Detroit River Fishing – Some Good Environmental News for a Change
James D. Swan, Ph.D.
from The Fishing Wire

Mainstream media daily bombard us with tales of woe, corruption, scandal, crime, crises, conflict, and disaster. We need to hear some good news, and clearly the recovery of the Detroit River is some good news.

At an average rate of 175,000 cubic feet per second, the Detroit River surges through a strait less than a mile wide for 32 miles, passing five million people as it flows between Lake St. Claire and Lake Erie. As it enters Lake Erie, the river widens and the waters slip past two cigar-shaped islands. Along the Canadian shore lies 2.5 miles long Bois-Blanc Island, a former amusement park that today is a resort community. To the west in American waters is a 12 mile-long cigar-shaped island, Grosse Ile, the quiet home of more than 10,000 people.

A history of the Detroit River reveals how becoming “civilized” can influence water quality. In 1701 the French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac established Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit on the west bank of this strait. Within a couple decades, each winter the hay, straw, and manure from all the stables in Detroit were hauled out onto the frozen river and dumped on the ice. Spring thaws would then carry away downstream like one giant flush of the city’s toilet.

As Detroit grew from a trading post into a city, waste dumping increased. In 1823 Peter Berthelet was authorized to build a wharf from the shore out to deep water and install a pipe to supply water that would be free from contamination by the debris commonly dumped into the river.

By 1909 the pollution of the Detroit River had become so bad that an International Joint Commission of representatives from the United States and Canada was formed. Four years later the both countries admitted they were dumping untreated sewage into the river and they agreed to build sewage treatment plants. A 1929-30 follow-up study concluded the river was no longer polluted. My father, who lived nearly all his life on Grosse Ile, recalled how in the late 20’s he and his friends used to be able to see the bottom of the river when they dove off the bridge on the west side of the island.

As Henry Ford’s dream of creating the automobile manufacturing center of the world materialized, World War II drove Detroit into round the clock manufacturing of vehicles and the quality of water in the Detroit River again declined. A l946-48 International Joint Commission reported that the Detroit River was seriously polluted by some 1,739,120,040 gallons of municipal and industrial wastewaters that were flushed away on an average day! Oil slicks on the river were reported 1/3 of the time. Once abundant species, such as whitefish, blue pike, trout, and sturgeon, virtually disappeared from the Detroit River and Lake Erie, and those remaining often tasted oily. Major public-access sites displayed public health warning signs. You could still catch some fish from the bank, but not the same assortment of prime species as a few decades earlier, and they often tasted like oil.

A reminder of the bad old days for the Detroit River. James Swan photo.
Two decades later, in waste waters came an infusion of nitrates and phosphates from common household detergents stimulatong the growth of aquatic plants in the river and lake. These aquatic plants became so luxuriant that by mid-summer, boating was impossible in large areas. And as the plants died off in the fall, large amounts of vegetative material sank to the bottom, covering the bottom with a thick mat of rotting ooze. Starting in the late fifties, large areas of the river and lake became biological deserts for all but carp and goldfish.

In l964 an International Joint Commission report declared that the lower 26 miles of the Detroit River were “polluted bacteriologically, chemically, physically, and biologically so as to interfere with municipal water supplies, recreation, fish and wildlife propagation and navigation.” Wildlife biologist Dr. George Hunt estimated that as many as 10,000 ducks, geese, swans and gulls used to die nearly every winter from oil spills in the lower Detroit River.

Little wonder that in 1970 a cover story on Time magazine declared Lake Erie dead.

Earth Day 1970 finally drew focus on the serious pollution problems of that time, and an international movement began to clean up the Detroit River. So much progress has taken place in the Detroit River since then that in 2001 an International Wildlife Refuge was established in the lower Detroit River, with its initial offices on Grosse Ile.

Some examples of recovery accomplishments:

1) In the 1970s there was a nearly complete reproductive failure of bald eagles. In 2013, there were 18 active bald eagle nests in the vicinity of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.

2) The falcon population in Michigan was decimated in the 1950s. Falcons were reintroduced in Detroit in 1987 and since the early 1990s falcon reproductive success has steadily increased. Falcons now nest under the Ambassador Bridge

3) In 2009, a pair of osprey built a nest in a cell phone tower adjacent to the Gibraltar Wetlands Unit of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge; the first time that osprey have successfully nested in Wayne County since the 1890’s.

4) Since the early 1960’s there’s been a 96% decline in nesting pairs of terns along the Detroit River. In 2012 two common terns fledged on restored Belle Isle habitat on Belle Isle; the first fledging since the 1960’s.

5) A hundred years ago, sturgeon were abundant in the Detroit River and Lake Erie. No sturgeon spawning was recorded in the Detroit River from 1970s to 1999. In 2001 sturgeon reproduction was documented on the U.S. side near Zug Island and in 2009 sturgeon reproduction was documented near Fighting Island on the Canadian side of the river

6) In 2006 whitefish spawning in the Detroit River was documented for the first time since 1916

7) The walleye population in Lake Erie was rated as in “crisis” in 1978. By 2012, fishery biologists estimated that 22.2 million walleye (age 2 and greater) were present in Lake Erie, resulting in a total harvest through sport and commercial fishing of 2.48 million walleyes. It’s estimated now that 10 million walleye ascend the Detroit River from Lake Erie each spring, The Detroit River and Lake Erie are now considered the “Walleye Capital of the World.”

8) Beaver were hunted to near extinction in lower Michigan during the “fur trade era.” During the 1940’s-1970’s, beaver couldn’t have survived in the Detroit River because oiled fur becomes matted and loses its ability to trap air to maintain body temperature. In 2008, two beaver built a lodge at DTE’s Conner Creek Power Plant. Beaver are now found in the headwaters of the Rouge River, and in 2013, beaver were seen at DTE’s Rouge Power Plant.

9) Steelhead and salmon are now found in the Detroit River and Lake Erie and some spawn in tributaries.

10) Wild celery (an important food for diving ducks) in the Detroit River declined 72% between 1950 and1985 because of oil and other pollution. It’s increased 200% since 1985.

11) The entire length of the Detroit River is now safe for water contact sports.

I’d add that when I was growing up on Grosse Ile, I saw one deer on the island before I left for college. There now is a deer season on the refuge.

The man to speak with about the current status and future of the Detroit River is Dr. John Hartig, Manager of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.

A life-long resident of Southeastern Michigan, John grew up in Allen Park in the 1960s, and would pedal his bike down Southfield Road to fish the Detroit River. When he’d come back home, Hartig recalls “The neighbors would say, ‘You’re not going to eat that fish are you?'”.

According to Dr. Hartig, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is the only international refuge in North America and one of only 14 priority urban refuges in the nation charged with bringing conservation to cities. It covers 48 miles of shoreline along the Detroit River and western Lake Erie – stretching from southwest Detroit to the Ohio-Michigan border and as far east as Point Pelee National Park in Ontario. The Refuge focuses on conserving and restoring habitats for 350 species of birds and 117 species of fish. USFWS currently owns or cooperatively manages 6,202 acres of unique lands and partners with Michigan Department of Natural Resource on conservation of 7,897 acres of state-owned land. A Canadian registry of lands includes 3,797 acres of Essex Region Conservation Authority lands and 981 acres of City of Windsor lands. In total, 18,877 acres of land in southeast Michigan and southwest Ontario are now being cooperatively managed for conservation and outdoor recreation for nearly seven million people living in a 45-minute drive.

The cornerstone of the Refuge is the 410-acre Humbug Marsh in Trenton – the last mile of natural shoreline on the U.S. mainland of the Detroit River.

As a result of considerable public outcry over potential development of Humbug Marsh, it was purchased by USFWS and preserved in perpetuity as the cornerstone of the Refuge. Humbug Marsh is considered an internationally important wetland because of its ecological importance in the Detroit River corridor and the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. Oak trees around the marsh have been aged at over 300 years old and were alive when Cadillac founded Detroit in 1701, and there’s a local healthy deer herd in that area.

Refuge Gateway Center (top) under construction will help educate the next generation while the 740-foot dock for the Great Lakes school ship (below) will also help teach them about conservation- and fishing. Photo by Tandem with permission.

An automotive manufacturing facility in Trenton that produced brakes, paints, and solvents for 44 years was located adjacent to Humbug Marsh. It was cleaned up to industrial standards and sat vacant as an industrial brownfield for over 10 years. In 2002, Wayne County Parks purchased this brownfield in Trenton to become the future home of the Refuge Visitor Center and to improve outdoor recreational opportunities including shore fishing, hiking, wildlife observation, kayaking, and more. It’s taken 10 more years to cleanup this former industrial brownfield and meet public use standards.

Through this restoration project there’s been: a net gain of over 16 acres of wetlands in an area that has lost 97% of its coastal wetlands to development; restoration of 25 acres of upland buffer habitat; control of invasive plant species on over 50 acres of upland habitats, including control of invasive Phragmites along 2.5 miles of shoreline. It’s also resulted in merging the 44-acre Refuge Gateway with the 410-acre Humbug Marsh into one ecological unit. Citizen involvement has occurred throughout the project, including public meetings, design charrettes, planting trees and wetland plugs, building trails, birding tours, and nature hikes to achieve local ownership/stewardship. It’s the only project in the world to successfully clean up an industrial brownfield to serve as an ecological buffer for a “Wetland of International Importance.”

At the Refuge Gateway under construction are: a 12,000 square foot LEED-certified, Visitor Center (two classrooms, a multi-purpose room, and one-third of the building devoted to hands-on and minds-on activities for children); a 740-foot dock for the Great Lakes school ship that will use the adjacent waters as a living laboratory for children; a universally-accessible 200-foot fishing pier; a canoe and kayak launch; three wildlife observation decks; and an outdoor environmental education classroom. There are three miles of hiking trails that will be connected to over 100 miles of greenway trails. When the visitor center and amenities open in 2018, it will attract hundreds of thousands of annual visitors, changing the image of the river and the refuge from a polluted “rust-belt” dump to a conservation treasure.

The International Wildlife Refuge Alliance and the Friends Organization for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge are currently leading a two-month, on-line fundraising campaign to complete the school ship dock and fishing pier at the Refuge Gateway in Trenton. See link

Their goal is to raise $50,000 in two months to complete this project by August 31. If they do, they’ll receive $50,000 in match funding from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Donations are welcomed.

One good example of conservation success like the Detroit River recovery can start a national, and international movement that can change the world, maybe even force the media to tell us more good stories.