Monday, March 3, 2014

Beatons Lake, a Gogebic County hidden gem

rainbow trout in MichiganBeatons Lake in Gogebic County is a textbook case in the difficulties in modern fish management.

"It has always been a very nice trout lake," explained Michigan Department of Natural Resources senior fisheries biologist George Madison. "However the yellow perch population became problematic."

The problem? The yellow perch were cropping the zooplankton abundance, of which the stocked rainbow trout depend on for forage.

The DNR responded by stocking walleye to thin the perch population. While walleye were helping to control the perch, they were also preying on the bluegill fishery. Local residents want to preserve their shallow-water oriented fishery, which they can access from boat docks and shore. The DNR wants to make sure the bluegill/bass populations can provide the hook-and-bobber fishery that is popular for families who live along the lake.

The DNR tried another approach: splake. These brook trout/lake trout hybrids utilize yellow perch as forage, so they were stocked to help control the yellow perch numbers. That management tool, which is showing some good signs, needed some adjustment.

"We learned that where we were stocking the rainbow trout and splake, the fish had to swim through a narrow point of the lake to get out to deeper water. Common loons would frequent that narrow area and feed on both the rainbow trout and splake as they migrated to deeper water. Based on that, we moved the stocking site to the central portion of the lake so they will not get preyed upon by the loons," explained Madison.

Ideally, the splake will keep the perch population in check, leave the bluegills alone, and help maintain the plankton level that allows the Eagle Lake-strain rainbow trout to thrive.

"That's been working well," Madison said. "We're letting the natural balance of the panfishery prevail. The bluegill fishery seems to have rebounded. We meet with the lake residents regularly and they report the bluegill and bass fishing has come back. This lake is a nice fishery for panfish."

Beatons Lake has a long history of fisheries management. As far back as the 1920s, fisheries managers stocked the lake with landlocked salmon, though they failed to bear fruit. Rainbow trout, which were first stocked in 1942 and biologists have observed spawning on the gravel shoals, have filled that niche nicely.

The 330-acre lake is located about 12 miles northwest of Watersmeet. It reaches a maximum depth of 90 feet with sparse aquatic vegetation, though there is an almost continuous gravel shoal area around the lake that should provide adequate spawning habitat for smallmouth bass. The lake has no inlet and forms the headwaters of Two Mile Creek, which supports native brook trout, and drains into the Cisco Branch of the Ontonagon River.

Madison said Beatons Lake hosts a U.S. Forest Service boating access site and is an ideal place to enjoy a peaceful day. Good primitive camping is available at the nearby Ottawa National Forest and there are some nearby developed campgrounds as well.

"There is no human development in this area, therefore this lake has beautiful night skies for watching northern lights and meteor showers," he said. "People who have never experienced night-fishing with lanterns for rainbow trout will find this a great place to do so!"

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