Recent rains set stage for Wisconsin chinook run

MADISON – Recent rains have pushed stream flows well above long-term averages in major Lake Michigan tributaries including the Root River in Racine and Kewaunee River in Kewaunee County, prompting anticipation for this year’s chinook salmon run.

As the mature salmon begin their final journey up the Root and Kewaunee rivers and Strawberry Creek in Door County, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries staff will be on hand to collect the eggs and milt needed for the next generation of fish for Lake Michigan stocking.

Visitors will be able to see the action firsthand at open house events at the C.D. “Buzz” Besadny Anadromous Fish Facility on Saturday, Oct. 1 and Root River Steelhead Facilityon Saturday, Oct. 8. At the Strawberry Creek facility, a key source for chinook salmon eggs, visitors are welcome and able to observe inside the fence when staff are present.

“The fall open house events provide an opportunity for community members to learn firsthand about efforts to collect eggs for next year’s stocking and how we manage the Lake Michigan fishery,” said Todd Kalish, DNR fisheries bureau deputy director. “We look forward to welcoming visitors to Besadny, Root River and Strawberry Creek.”

The open house events at Besadny and Root River feature egg collection demonstrations as well as fly casting and tying lessons, youth instruction and opportunities to learn Lake Michigan fishing tips from expert anglers. The Besadny open house features an opportunity to sponsor tagged fingerling sturgeon and participate in the river release of these young fish.

Mike Baumgartner, who supervises the Besadny facility in Kewaunee, said based on early returns and natural water flows, this year’s run should surpass last year’s results.

“Visitors can walk along the banks of the river to view the chinook swimming upstream and they can get a face-to-face look at the fish through underwater windows,” Baumgartner said. “Up above, windows overlooking the egg collection area also offer a great view of the egg collection and processing area. The open house event also features guided tours of the facility, fish print t-shirt making and fishing lessons along with other activities. Visitors can park in a lot down the road and walk or take the horse and wagon ride to get here.”

The open house events are free and open to the public with food and beverages available from local groups as well as guided facility tours and activities geared to youth. Trails and paths near the facilities offer opportunities for families to explore the river environment and enjoy wildlife and bird viewing.

The Oct. 1 event at the Besadny facility in Kewaunee runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The facility, on the Kewaunee River, was built in 1989-1990 and collects eggs from chinook and coho salmon as well as brown and steelhead or rainbow trout for rearing in a series of ponds. A processing building featuring a lobby with displays and a public viewing window was completed in 1996.

The Oct. 8 event at the Root River facility in Racine also runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will feature facility tours, hands-on activities for kids, knot tying, fly casting and more. The facility was built in 1993-1994 along the Root River by DNR in partnership with the Salmon Unlimited fishing club. It serves as a significant source of coho salmon, steelhead and brown trout eggs and plays an important role in the collection of biological data relating to overall fish health, growth rates, migration patterns and other data. In addition, DNR crews collect seeforellen brown trout from the river in November to ensure the ability to stock this important strain in the future.

Nick Legler, DNR fisheries biologist specializing in chinook, said fisheries staff members anticipate processing fish at the Strawberry Creek Chinook Facility outside Sturgeon Bay, on Oct. 3, 6, 11, possibly 13 and subsequent Mondays and Thursdays throughout the run. However, the dates are subject to change depending on the run and numbers of fish.

The fall egg collection marks the start of DNR’s propagation process. The eggs will be hatched and raised at DNR facilities until they are ready for stocking at about four months for chinook and at one and a half years for coho, steelhead and brown trout. The different species are stocked according to the stage in their lifecycle at which naturally reproducing fish would normally leave the tributaries to live in Lake Michigan. That stage is much earlier for chinook.