"Skamania" is an Indian name meaning "swift waters." The swift waters of this o.mykiss originated not in Indiana waters, but in the State of Washington. With the completion of the Skamania Hatchery (located in Skamania County, WA) in 1956, on the west fork of the Washougal River, DFW officials had their first opportunity to collect wild summer steelhead. The first year's trapping netted 153 wild summer steelhead. From this beginning WA State began the first hatchery summer steelhead program. By taking the first returning of the largest steelhead they hoped to genetically provide a consistent early returning summer steelhead fishery. By instituting new hatchery practices they sped up the sexual maturity of the fish by two months. These additional two month in the hatchery provided for earlier development of eggs and a larger, healthier, yearling prior to planting. Washington hatchery personnel accomplished this by additional artificial lighting hours, varying water temperatures, and improved diet. As a result of the 1956 undertaking, the Skamania became the main summer steelhead strain planted in the Columbia River basin.
In the early 1970's, Indiana DNR officials were looking for a Lake Michigan summer fish to supplement the spring coho fishery and its fall salmon fishery. The doldrums summer months provided little opportunities for the Indiana boat-trolling enthusiasts. With warm, summer water temperatures, most Hoosier salmon-trout trollers headed to points north in surrounding Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin waters to ply their big-lake techniques. Here, the summer target fish were the booming coho, chinook, and lake trout populations.
During the same period, a west coast lure manufacturer, Jim Maxwell, of Grizzly Products, visited the Hoosier State, to promote his product line of salmon lures to the exploding Great Lakes salmon fishery. Maxwell, aware of the State of Washington's Skamania summer steelhead program, helped Indiana obtain their first Skamania eggs in 1970. Not having a coldwater facility, Indiana fisheries personnel hatched Skamania in recycled 55-gallon Rotenone barrels. Rotenone is a fish toxicant used to remove undesirable fish populations prior to restocking. The following spring, 120,000 yearlings were planted in Indiana's creeks flowing into southern Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, as a result of handling and water quality, that first introduction did not succeed in establishing a fishery.
From 1971-1974, the Skamania experiment was put on hold. During this time, Indiana officials concentrated on building a permanent hatchery and management program. Few steelhead of any strain were raised.
Fortunately, Indiana officials, anglers, and Midwest outdoor writers kept pressing for the development of a Skamania fishery. Among the latter special interest group was Michigan City/Midwest writer, Al Spiers. In 1975, Indiana's new Mixsawbah Hatchery was now on line and Washington fishery personnel shipped 225, 000 eyed (partly developed) eggs to the Hoosier State. In 1976, a total of 179,000 fish, 6-7 inches in length, were produced and planted in Indiana tributaries of Lake Michigan in late April. It is from this successful plant that the Skamania fishery has evolved from.
From 1975-1980, Indiana received Skamania eggs each April from Washington's Skamania
Hatchery. However, in 1980, IHN (infectious hematopoietic necrosis) a deadly virus, was detected at the Washougal River Hatchery (Skamania County) which subsequently was closed for disinfecting. As a result, the State of Washington was no longer able to ship eggs to Indiana.
For Indiana, a new egg source had to be found. At this important juncture, the IN DNR committed itself to their own brood stock-egg taking initiative. This program was assigned to the Lake Michigan DNR fisheries station in Michigan City. Here, under the leadership of DNR biologist, Bob Koch and Neil Ledet the initial plans were developed.
In August 1981, using creek weirs and landing nets, IN DNR personnel collected 477 adult summer steelhead from its Trail Creek and transported the fish to their Curtis Creek Rearing Station. As a result of handling, high water temperatures and a 100 mile haul to the rearing-holding raceways, the fish were stressed. Also, furunculosis, a deadly bacterial that attacks the kidneys and liver, was identified that threatened the entire collection. Hatchery personnel reacted to the infection by inoculating each individual fish with antibiotics, which proved successful. Throughout this highly stressful time for fish and hatchery officials, the brood stock and eventually their eggs were being tested for bacterial and viral disease. After federal testing and clearance of Indiana's first brood stock-egg collection, the Hoosier State was able to plant approximately 100,000 summer steelhead in the spring of 1983. Indiana fishery officials now had secured their own continual egg source and developed a further Skamania fishery on the Michigan-Indiana St. Joseph River. During this period, the IN DNR supplied surrounding Great Lake States with Skamania eggs, in return for the latter state's fish and wildlife offerings.
At the same time, to ensure a continual managed brood stock collection site, the IN DNR worked out an agreement with the Michigan City Fish and Game Club. Here on the Club's Trail Creek property, a DNR weir was temporarily installed for the interception of the upstream migrating Skamania. In 1994, the IN DNR vacated the Trail Creek site and used its South Bend and later, its Berrien Springs ladder on the St. Joseph River, to collect their brood stock for eventual egg procurement. In 2012, with the completion of the lamprey weir on Trail Creek, the possibility of brood stock collection here, may provide a far more consistent and efficient site.
Although the Skamania stream fishery may have initially been a secondary goal, this dynamic
fishery, along with the big lake counterpart, continues to provide Skamania Mania for Indiana and southern Lake Michigan anglers.
The Northwest Indiana Steelheaders have been one of the leading sportfishing organizations in promoting and enhancing the Skamania summer steelhead program. The NWIS is associated with providing input, direction, and leadership in maintaining this fishery, as well as being a sought out voice, for the entire southern big-lake and connecting water species.
For The Love of Salmon
By Marty Jaranowski (2002)
What do twenty guys standing around talking their love of trout fishing do? They start an organization.. Funded in 1982 as a charter of Michigan Salmon & Steelhead Fishing Association with a core of twenty members, including Valparaiso resident John Seroczynski, Rich Hedgepeth (first president) Gene Cierniak, Jim Krmarich and Mike Ryan from Chesterton, the Northwest Indiana Steelheaders (NWIS) has grown to over 200 members today from Indiana to Illinois.
"From the beginning we knew we had to be more than a bunch of guys going fishing," said Mike Ryan. "Our primary goal then and now is education. Not only teaching how to fish, but also, how to protect the fishery and habitat."
Part of protecting the habitat is keeping it clean and rather than preach, NWIS teaches by example. They hold two major clean-ups a year. In the spring they target Salt Creek and the Little Calumet River and in the fall Trail Creek. In the town of Trail Creeks Forks at Rt. 20, the NWIS has adopted the public access site, keeping it clean and maintaining the refuse receptacles.
A project the organization is especially proud of is Creek Ridge Park along Trail Creek in La Porte County. In this three-year project they cut the roads and trails, and built the shelters. For fishing access they erected a 1,000 feet of boardwalk along the stream that is handicapped accessible, complete with several fishing platforms. For the habitat they built spawning beds and with the assistance of the Michigan City Fish & Game Club and the St Joe Valley Fly Fishers built several lunkers to save the eroding stream beds.
"The year after the spawning beds were built, NWIS with the help of the National Lakeshore Junior Rangers moved some of the rocks to see if we could find any fry," said Ryan. "You can't imagine the feeling when you look in the nets and see steelhead fry. It really makes it worth the work."
Just a few short years ago it was big news when shore anglers caught Skamania steelhead along the wall at NIPSCO's Dean Mitchell Generating Station in Gary. Nowadays, catching a Skamania is a frequent occurrence, thanks to another project called "The Net Pen Project" under the banner of Lake Michigan Sport Fishing Coalition, Inc. (LMSFC). The LMFSC was formed by NWIS along with Michigan City Fish & Game Club, Inc. , Hoosier Coho Club, Inc.,Miller Ikes-Family Fishing Club,Porter County Chapter-Izaak Walton League of America, Salmon Unlimited of Indiana, Inc., Lakeridge Boat Club,Lake County Fish & Game Protective Association,Miller Chapter-Izaak Walton League of America, Indiana's Northcoast Charter Association, Indiana Harbor Yacht Club and NIPSCO Industries also undertaking this pilot project.
In September of 1993 volunteers fin-flipped 6,550 three to five inch Skamania fingerlings at the Bodine Hatchery for the project.In November the fish were placed in a pen that measured eight feet wide by five feet deep and 25 feet long, at the Dean H. Mitchell Generating Station.
Fed twice daily, by LMSFC volunteers, these fish averaged 9.9 inches when released in March of 1994. The mortality rate was four fish lost. The project ended in 1997 with a total of 72,500 Skamania released in the southern tip of Lake Michigan.
Today the fruits of that project have made catching a skamania along the Dean H. Mitchell wall commonplace. "One reason we are proud to be associated with this (Net Pen) project - wasn't the fact that it's now giving enjoyment to area anglers," said Ryan. "But that it was a project that could only be undertaken with the co-operation of all the organizations working together, and that is the key phrase - working together."
"To fulfill our goal of education, in 1983 we started to give one-day fishing clinics at Blythe's Sporting Goods in Valparaiso," said Gene Cierniak, the first Spring Fever committee chairman. "For several years we continued with the one-day seminars until we were invited to attend the sport show held at Southlake Mall. Here we saw the interest not only in NWIS, but also saw a demand for information and equipment. However, none of the exhibitors are allowed to sell anything! Not even club memberships!"
"Well," continued Gene, "the line tightened and the float disappeared - at the next monthly meeting the cry was "why not start our own show?"
A committee was formed, meetings were held with the Porter County Tourism Board and the Porter County Fair Grounds and the Spring Fever Outdoor Show was born in 1987. "That was the first year used only one building and had about 45 exhibitors," said Cierniak. "The next year we added another building and expanded to about 65 exhibitors including a couple of boat dealers."
The 2002 show will be the first to use all three exhibition halls of the Porter County Fairgrounds to good advantage.
The The show is an eleven month project every year, after one show is over the committee and club volunteers take about a three week break and then start planning the next year's show.
"We have about 20 members on the committee and as the show is in progress many members volunteer their time to man the Steelheader booth, help set up, sell tickets and help with the kid's seminars and projects." said Cierniak.
Along with all the exhibitors an important facet of the show is its seminar schedule. Seminars run almost back-to-back during the show.Seminars range from tying a fly to to advanced stream methods for salmon and trout. A special emphasis is given to kids. Seminars are held in the mornings of the show along with the other children's activities.
Though approximately 6,800 people buy tickets for The Spring Fever Outdoor Show, nearly 8,000 people pass through its doors-kids enter free and sponsors get a discount.
"People may try to run the figures and say "Hey! These guys are making a LOT of money doing this," said Cierniak. "But, this is where most of the money for all our projects comes from. And we invite other organizations to apply for grants from NWIS to help with their projects."
Other places NWIS uses its funds is buying equipment for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources such as microscopes and centrifuges. They also produce River Watch water test kits for the volunteers. The efforts of NWIS have not gone unnoticed. They have a bevy of awards they wear with pride, including the Grassroots Organization of the Year Award from the Sportsfishing Institute, Most Active Organization from the Indiana Chapter of American Fishery Association; Building Partnerships in Fishery Management from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission; and certificates of recognition from the Boy Scouts of America, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, La Porte County Parks and Portage Parks.
One thing for sure, today the Northwest Indiana Steelheaders don't stand around long, just talking about fishing for trout!