Great Lakes Water Levels at Record Highs…Should we Sell to Fix the Problem?

  • Ideas to tap the Great Lakes water were essentially stopped in 2008, when the Great Lakes Compact was made law
  • Instead of cities and states around the lakes worrying about keeping enough water along their lakefronts to float boats, they are now concerned about lakeside parking lots becoming marinas.
  • Who is going to crack first?
Lakeside parking lots becoming marinas, is there a solution?

By Mike Schoonveld

The water levels in the Great Lakes have cycled from high to low to high and back, countless times in the 10,000 years since the glaciers gouged the land, then filled the trenches back up with their melt water. High and low water periods are still happening in response to the amount of precipitation in the Great Lakes watershed and the gallons of water that ultimately flows down the St. Lawrence River (minus evaporation).

Containing twenty percent of the unfrozen freshwater in the world, the remaining 80 percent of the world would like to have some of the water – whether the lakes are low or high. Over time, some innovative schemes have been devised to get it.

One company was going to fill ocean-going tanker ships with Great Lakes water and haul it all the way to Australia.  The multi-national company, Nestle, made plans to haul Great Lakes water away, one plastic bottle full at a time.

These and other ideas to tap the Great Lakes water were essentially stopped in 2008 when the Great Lakes Compact was made law. By unanimous consent of all the states and provinces bordering the lakes, the compact essentially disallowed commercial use of Great Lakes water if that use would remove the water outside of the Great Lakes watershed.

It was an easy regulation to pass back in 2008 when the water levels in the Great Lakes were approaching near record low levels. “Experts” were pinning the low levels on climate change and predicted no end to the ever dropping lake levels. The “Compact,” they said, was just one of many regulations governments would need to take to save the lakes, human civilization and most other life on earth.

Except now, the Great Lakes are brim full and each additional centimeter added to the Great Lakes water level sets new records. The same experts espousing theories of ever-dwindling Great Lakes water levels in 2008 are now claiming high water levels are the result of climate change and predicting no end to lakeshore flooding.

Now, instead of cities and states around the lakes worrying about keeping enough water along their lakefronts to float boats, they are worrying about lakeside parking lots becoming marinas. Something has to be done to get rid of the water before the Great Lakes become 25 percent of the world’s freshwater.

How soon is one of the states (or provinces) going to break the compact? There are none of the states or provinces bordering the lakes which don’t have their own version of money problems. Each one of those governments have budget struggles every fiscal year and each one fights for every nickel they can scrape up to squander.

All of these states are spending money right now, hiring climate change experts, planners, engineering firms and forming commissions to figure out how to cope with high waters along their lakeshores. How soon will one of the governments realize they can sell it?

Former ploys and ideas to tap into the Great Lakes were devised with the idea the water was free. The tanker ship hauling the water to a far away continent was expensive, but the cargo was free. What if it wasn’t?

Is the current high water levels something which will reverse itself or will water levels continue to rise? I don’t know. Ask an expert.

Do you think Illinois, which is hundreds of billions of dollars in debt, would balk at selling a trillion gallons of Lake Michigan for a penny per gallon?  Do you think drought-plagued Texas wouldn’t pay that amount, or the Nestle Corporation?

What about Michigan?  A trillion gallons of Great Lakes water at a penny per gallon would put 10 billion bucks in Michigan’s treasury.

Would the other signatories to the Great Lakes Compact object? In the past they’ve certainly objected to water withdrawal proposals brought up through out the region. Would they object again, or would the legislators and administrators think, “Great idea! Pump away the problem. It’s like selling air. It’s free money!”  Soon pump stations would be going up in every state.

If even one state broke away and the others objected, what could they do? Michigan isn’t going to invade Wisconsin – other than with lawyers. The federal government is unlikely to step into the fray. The states are now begging the feds for financial assistance to fight the high water, just as they did when they hit up the feds for dollars to dredge channels and harbors when the water was low. From the point of view of the feds, the problem is a solution.

Is the current high water levels something which will reverse itself or will water levels continue to rise?  I don’t know. Ask an expert. I do know, once the pumps are installed, the water starts flowing out and the money starts flowing in, it will take more than a compact between the states to stop the flow.

THE END

Attack of the Space Invaders

  • Adaptation and Instinct takes over to Survive
  • Extraordinary occurrences begin, we learn from these
  • Life or death may remain in the balance 
The woods may offer the most interesting place for the ‘Vaders. Forrest Fisher Photo

By Rich Creason

The space invaders have arrived. A tiny particle of dust rides the wind up into the heavy clouds. Ominous clouds form and are made up of millions of water droplets so small that thousands could fit on the head of a pin. The temperature in this huge mass slowly drops.
Colder and colder.

The space dust attracts the water molecules to itself and starts to grow and freeze. Countless other dust and salt particles are doing the same combining. They begin to change, to mutate.

Depending on the temperature and humidity of the air, the invaders alter into one or more of seven basic different crystal shapes. Then, they start their assault, dropping toward unsuspecting earth. Bumping into other forms often breaks off pieces of crystal, forming a new center for another crystal form to begin growing.

On and on. More and more. Bigger and bigger.

Now, the entire invading force is racing downward, growing, spreading, and combining, in its mindless desire to cover everything in its path.

Depending on the temperature and humidity of the air, the invaders alter into one or more of seven basic different crystal shapes. Pixabay Photo

Too late to run. Too late to hide. It’s here! The snow has arrived!

Depending on the crystal type, the snow might stick, pack, build-up, drift, and be fluffy, dry, wet, or crusted. Usually, to most humans, it is just more snow to be shoveled and to drive on, except for a few weird ones like me. Snow means I get to go out and shovel my driveway before daylight. For some strange reason, I enjoy being outdoors in the dark and quiet, the only sound – the noise of my shovel sliding across the pavement. I like the cold and exercise.

When my drive is clean, and the sky begins to lighten, I walk the fencerows and wooded areas near my house looking for animal tracks. The whole outdoor scene is painted in the snow.

Deer tracks are numerous.

Deer tracking becomes easier for hunters in the snow. Forrest Fisher photo

Fox tracks used to be common but now have been replaced by coyote tracks.

Rabbit tracks also were frequently noted 15 years ago, but the coyotes have almost eliminated all of the nearby bunnies.

Mice and bird tracks follow the sheltered areas looking for food but staying close to safety.

The snow tells the whole story. Three or four times in my wanderings, I have seen an unusual story painted in the white fluff. I followed mice tracks along with the snow when they suddenly disappear. At the end of the trail was a circular depression in the snow. About 18 or 20 inches out from the depression on either side were skinny, parallel, line-like impressions in the white stuff. A mouse had been hopping along and suddenly was grabbed from above by an owl. The circular dent was where the owl body and feet hit the mouse. The lines on the side were the wingtips of the bird as he flapped to regain altitude with his meal. Without the snow, I would never get to see this picture.
I have never yet seen the story of a rabbit being chased by a fox or coyote, but I know that scene must be painted in the snow out there somewhere and I’m still looking.

When the snow accumulates to around six inches or more, I get to break out my snowshoes. Central Indiana seldom receives this much at one time, so I have to drive north to Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, or even Canada to have fun with these. I have a pair of old wood and leather shoes, plus a pair of new aluminum ones which are easier to care for and with fasteners, which are simple to strap to my boots. With my homemade walking stick, I can easily keep my balance while walking the snow trails or even through rugged areas looking for stories of wildlife in the woods. Someone who might come along behind me, who had never seen snowshoe tracks, would think Bigfoot had arrived. The biggest problem with wearing snowshoes is that my legs become exhausted and sore until I get used to walking in them again.

Birds may require greater adaptation without help from people. Forrest Fisher photo

To plants and animals, the conditions that the snow creates literally can mean life or death for them. Many animals have evolved in extraordinary ways because of snow.

The snowshoe hare, Canadian lynx, and the ruffed grouse are among these and have developed specially adapted feet to support them as they move through the deep, white powder.

The long-tailed weasel changes its fur from brown to white in winter, to not only camouflage itself from enemies but to better hide from its prey.

Ptarmigan of the far North also change their drab summer brown to white feathers to camouflage themselves from predators.

For these and other animals that have adapted to snowy conditions, sometimes, it is neither particular help nor hindrance. Snow is sometimes an advantage to smaller creatures. Mice and other tiny mammals burrow into the white covering to avoid the extreme cold outside. They create tunnels to travel through, preventing exposure to predators.

If the snow is crusted, rabbits and other medium-size critters can walk on top of deep snow to reach food that was previously too high for them to harvest. But, the snow also hides seeds and berries from the birds that need that food type to survive. Larger animals such as fox, deer, and even the colossal moose can become weak, trying to travel through deep snow, breaking through the crust and plowing through drifts in search of their next meal. Members of the deer family will “yard up” underneath heavy tree cover where they remain until all food is gone and they are forced to move on.

Many plants benefit from a covering of snow. Snow buries smaller plants forming an insulating blanket over dormant plants and seeds, protecting them from cold or drying winds while hiding them from foraging animals. It doesn’t harm plants that have adapted, such as the birches and evergreens. These trees have smaller limbs with beautiful branches that bend with the weight of heavy snow, unlike many more giant trees that break under the load. Spruce needles catch the flakes creating a warm shelter with less snow underneath for small animals to move through with little effort.

Adaptations and instincts of different plants and animals determine how snow will affect them, whether it will help or hurt them, and sometimes even whether that particular animal or entire species will live or die.

Nature is not kind to those unable to cope.

The author may be reached at eyewrite4u@aol.com.

MONSTER CATCH puts spotlight on Illinois Lake Trout COMEBACK

Capt. Shawn Keulen’s monster lake trout, held here by Jordan Keulen, was within short reach of the Illinois state record. It also drew attention to the remarkable restoration of successful lake trout spawning on the reefs off the Illinois shoreline.

By Mike Pehanich

  • Shawn Keulen’s 36-pound laker reported as 2nd largest fish taken from Lake Michigan so far this season
  • Lake trout reproduction on Illinois reefs best on all Lake Michigan
  • Goby addition to diet touted as key to natural laker reproduction

 Capt. Shawn Keulen’s 36-pound lake trout was a big fish that shed light on an even bigger story — that lake trout are spawning successfully off Illinois shore and creating another world-class fishery.

On Sunday, July 29, Lake Michigan guide Capt. Shawn Keulen brought a giant lake trout to boat. The head looked menacing and atavistic, a throwback to some species of prehistory. Its weight registered over 36 pounds on at least one scale, according to local reports.

But to long-time followers of the Lake Michigan fishery saga, the catch was big beyond its physical dimensions.

Keulen’s laker is believed to be the second largest salmonid caught by hook and line this season, and it came within short reach of the Illinois state record lake trout of 38 pounds, 4 ounces, caught by Theodore Rullman in August of 1999.

More significantly, the catch highlights the revival of successful lake trout reproduction in Lake Michigan following decades of failure and disappointment.

“Illinois waters are loaded with lake trout,” said Rob Wendel, manager of the Lake Michigan Angler bait and tackle shop in Winthrop Harbor (www.lakemichiganangler.com ; phone 224-789-7627). “You can catch as many as you wish. It’s that good.”

First mate Jordan Keulen holds Capt. Shawn Keulen’s monster lake trout. The 36-pounder is believed to be the second largest salmonid taken from Lake Michigan this season.

Laker comeback

The monster laker, the largest reported from Lake Michigan this season, stirred recollections of the bold efforts of Great Lakes biologists, anglers and volunteers to establish or reestablish viable populations of salmon and trout to Lake Michigan 60 years ago. The lake trout was the species impacted most heavily by a devastating sea lamprey invasion and locust-like alewife propagation in the middle of the 20th century.

Angler conservation with catch and release can help populations survive.

The resultant program brought exciting Coho and Chinook salmon populations to the lake and buttressed fading steelhead numbers. But extensive efforts by Great Lakes states to bring back a self-sustaining population of the lake trout, a native predator, showed little success for almost half a century despite substantial annual stockings by the four Lake Michigan border states and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That story line has changed dramatically in recent years, and, to the amazement of most, Illinois waters have staged the greatest lake trout comeback on the entire lake.

Careful release and life continues for a once endangered Lake Michigan population.

“We’re seeing high rates of non-stocked fish, wild lake trout, in our samples,” explained Vic Santucci, a Lake Michigan biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “Anglers are also seeing more wild fish showing up in their catch due to our mass marking project in which we mark stocked fish with adipose clips and coated wire tags. We are seeing probably on average over 40 percent wild fish in our population since 2012.”

Reef madness

Lake trout are spawning successfully on reefs located off Illinois shores, most notably Julian’s Reef and Waukegan Reef. In fact, reefs from Chicago to the Wisconsin state line may host the most active and successful lake trout spawning grounds on the entire lake.

“As far as we know from annual samples, our percentage of wild fish is highest here in the southern basin,” continued Santucci. “We are seeing the highest percentage of wild trout in our samples. There are a lot of trout on the Midlake Reef in Wisconsin…but the last numbers I saw were in the high teens and 20- to 25-percent range (for wild fish). They go lower than that as you survey waters farther north.”

Light tackle lake trout angling is becoming popular sport throughout the Great Lakes. That’s Jeff Slater of Seaguar showing off a handsome specimen.

For bedding lakers, the cobble composition of the reefs is part of their charm. The chunk rock and small boulders comprise a lake bottom “where eggs can get into interstitial spaces and be protected from predators yet still get oxygen,” according to Santucci. Ironically, shells of dead quagga mussels, an invasive mollusc, may also factor to lake trout favor in the evolving structure of the reefs.

Going goby!

Forage mix also seems to be working to lake trout favor. And the lowly round goby, long viewed as an ecological nemesis, may be the unheralded hero of the wild lake trout revival.

“The prevailing theory is that our lake trout suffered from a dietary deficiency when they were eating alewives almost exclusively,” noted Wendel. “Now their diet has switched over to goby and other forage species as well. The diverse diet is healthier for the lakers, and the results are evident in lake trout catches today.”

Santucci acknowledges the theory and finds it credible. He noted that gobies are rich in thiamine, believed to be the long-missing yet critical nutrient for successful lake trout reproduction.

“Lake trout feed on just about anything they can catch,” he said. “In past decades, their diet consisted primarily of smelt and alewives, especially alewives. The gobies they consume today are quite possibly adding more vitamin B, thiamine, to their diet.”

Wendel reports fabulous and consistent lake trout fishing off Illinois shores, though anglers often need to plumb triple-digit depths to catch them in late summer. But ballooning lake trout numbers in Illinois waters have reinvigorated angler interest in the species. Spring shore fishing along the Chicago lakefront is now popular sport, and light tackle techniques have brought out the fighting best in a species often berated for its performance at the end of a lead core line in 100-foot depths. Many are finding the fish can fight!

So, welcome to Illinois, lake trout mecca!

Follow the Illinois pages of Share the Outdoors for more Lake Michigan news and how-to fishing information throughout the year.

Turn August ‘dog days’ into ‘frog days’ on Illinois lakes, pits and ponds

Big bass often situate themselves in shade provided by thick, sloppy surface vegetation. The author used a frog to lure this hog from hiding.

  • Hollow-bodied frogs draw bites from bass in thick cover even during the hottest weeks of the season
  • Find fine froggin’ areas on natural lakes, reservoirs, ponds, strip pits, backwaters, development lakes and more
  • Tackle match-ups and frog selection improve hook-up ratio

By Mike Pehanich

Sure, bass fishing in Illinois can get iffy during the August doldrums, but big fish are still there for the frogmen of summer!

Illinois waters have met the dreaded Dog Days. That’s the excuse many anglers use to binge-watch Netflix series in an air-conditioned family room and ponder the coming football season rather than try their luck with doldrums bass. But for those willing to contend with the elements and buck their lethargy, August can produce some surprisingly good catches. And you don’t necessarily have to plumb deep water for structure-oriented bass to cash in on the action!

Some shallow water bass are there for the taking all through late summer on most bass waters. Many sit unmolested and far from a fish hook for weeks on end by hiding in dense, impenetrable cover where few lures can travel – with the exception of members of the faux frog family!

And, just to dump more cold water on any lingering “too-hot-for-bass” sentiments, I harken back to the Nories Frogfest events that I covered and competed in a few years ago. The bass on the Chattahoochee River tournament waters — Eufaula and Seminole — had no problem rising to the occasion during that hot and steamy month of August. In fact, many 6- to 9-pound largemouth came to weigh-in. And if you think Illinois is hot and steamy in August, spend some time on those Alabama/Georgia/Florida boundary waters!

The slop flies when a bass hits a frog in classic froggin’ habitat. I brought all the right tools to this battle.

Hollow-bodied frogs were designed to ride across the roof of the matted vegetation and pad beds that house summer bass. Their dual-hook configuration creates a cradle for the frog body. Designed and weighted to ride with the hook points up and tucked tight to the plastic, artificial frogs amaze and delight with their ability to travel snag-free through the jungle.

I took my faux frogs out for a doldrums test run two weeks ago on a central Illinois strip mine lake with water temperatures already well into the 80s. The fake amphibians did not disappoint. Fishing a duckweed-lined strip pit with a Jackall Iobee frog, I watched the moss fly on a number of explosive strikes. More importantly, I managed to convert nearly all those strikes into landed fish.

Frog fish almost anywhere

Part of the beauty of this late season frog fishing is that you can catch bass frequently from the most unassuming of waters.

I find fish ready to gulp a frog on Illinois waters from the Wisconsin state line to the Ohio River.

Ken Frank employed a Nories NF 60 frog to lure this thick-bodied bass from a small northern Illinois community development lake.

Fishing with angling buddy Ken Frank on a small housing development lake, we enjoyed exciting and, at times, even frantic froggin’ action in and around nasty vegetation that grew to the surface. One largemouth literally knocked my Nories NF 60 frog nearly two feet into the air. But that was just the beginning of the high-flying act.  The bass followed the bait through the air in an arcing leap and somehow nailed that frog on the way down! A short time later, Ken took a five-pound-plus bass — his largest frog bass to date — on another Nories NF 60.

Natural lakes nearly always feature bays and flats with emergent vegetation, pads, matted aquatic vegetation and other prime areas for frogging.

Scout out the back bays and creek arms of reservoirs as well as thick beds of milfoil and other thick-growing vegetation on main lake flats.

Farm ponds and golf course water hazards are prime froggin’ waters, too. (Get permission to fish first.)

I’ve chronicled some of my best frogging days in central Illinois before including outings with Chef Todd Kent on strip mines and Illinois River backwaters. Fertile strip mine lakes, quarries and draw pits with emergent vegetation like cattails and reeds or with overhanging trees and deadfall can be prime locations for frogging.

The key on all of these waters is to find suitable habitat – usually lily pads, matted jungles of dense aquatic growth, duck weed or brush cover — and to cast your frog into the most inviting locations within that stretch or patch of habitat. Target edges and pockets and unusual mixes of cover such as stumps or transitions from one type of aquatic plant to another. As matted vegetation begins to decay later in the season, target any “cheesy” area marking decay. Bass position themselves in the hollows they create.

Jackall’s Iobee Frog is an excellent walking frog and claims a high hook-up ratio, too.

On some lakes, even “habitat” becomes optional. I’ve fished a number of small lakes and ponds where bass holding tight to bank or sea wall will take a frog placed right against the shoreline or even eased into the water from the bank.

Retrieves

Frog retrieves vary in speed, style and cadence. Try to develop at least two basic retrieves:

1) a chugging/lunging stylethat imitates a frog working his way through the grass, and

2) a back-and-forth walking stylethat enables you to work the frog enticingly in open water or, better yet, keep a struggling frog in front of the bass’s face in a hole or pocket within a grass bed.

As a general rule, I fish a frog relatively quickly to cover water and find fish but slow my retrieve if I draw a strike or see other signs of active fish. Over time, however, you will learn to interpret the fish’s “sign” language and dial in quickly on what frog retrieve the bass want.

Tackle and timing

Tackle and timing are key! Employ a rod with muscle and backbone but with a tip soft enough to allow you to work the lure – and the fish to grab and hold on – before a mighty “heave-ho” hookset.

As for line, braid is the only way to go. Mine generally ranges from 50- to 65-pound test. Braid of that measure is strong enough to drive a hook home in thick cover and drag 10 pounds-plus of vegetation and fat bass to boat.

Conventional frog patterns can be “confidence” baits to froggin’ newcomers. And they catch plenty of bass!

Avoid the temptation to strike at the first sign of surface commotion. Often a bass will miss the bait entirely on its first swipe or merely pull the lure down by its skirted legs. It often needs a second gulp to get the bait securely into its mouth.

Make sure the bass has hold of the frog before you set the hook. Consider that moss and vegetation and water will hit the air before the bass has the lure in its mouth. The temptation to strike immediately can be overwhelming, but control your nerves and wait for evidence that the fish has taken the frog before you pull the trigger.

Still, I don’t recommend the “Count to three” or “Count to 10” advice that many fishermen suggest. The chances of the fish either rejecting the faux frog or taking it down dangerously into its gills and gullet are just too great for me to recommend the practice.

My approach requires some practice and experience, but the rule is simple. When the frog disappears, drop the rod tip and reel just enough to feel some sign of the fish’s presence. Then set the hook. Hard!

Frog fashion

Frogs come in a lot of tantalizing colors these days. No doubt, you will develop your favorites, but the only critical decision to make here is to have a mix of light-bellied frogs and dark-bellied frogs. Keep in mind that the fish rarely sees more than half the frog at any given time, and the view is from below. Often the view of the lure is filtered by matted vegetation that masks everything but the frog’s profile.

I divide my frog colors into three categories: 1) conventional green patterns, 2) other white or light-bellied baits, and 3) brown, black and other dark bellied baits. If I have at least one frog from each category with me on a good “froggin’” day, I am confident at least one of them will catch bass.

Up the hook-ups

Missed strikes and lost fish can make frog fishing one of the most frustrating of angling pursuits. That’s why frog fishermen are on a never-ending quest to improve their hook-up ratio.

A good guide to frog color selection is to arm yourself with white or light-bellied frogs, dark-bodied frogs, and conventional “frog” colors.

I outlined some bare tackle basics earlier. While more and more anglers have caught on to the importance of rod, reel and line selection to frog fishing success, many still don’t realize that the type of frog they use matters, too.

Many good frogs have hit the market in recent years, but I’ve found my best hook-up ratio comes by far when I am using the Nories NF 60and Jackall Iobee frogs. Their Japanese creators clearly factored “improving hook-ups” into their design task. Both are premium-priced lures, but well worth the investment.

Among more popularly priced frogs, the Booyah Pad Crasher delivers a high percentage of hook-ups. If you like to modify your frogs by placing BBs in the body cavity for better frog visibility in really thick slop, you may feel more comfortable doing so with this economical but quite effective frog.

Note: The Nories NF60 had almost disappeared from the American market in recent years, but Munenori Kajiwara, owner of Japan Import Tackle (https://www.japanimporttackle.com) in Wheaton, Illinois, informs me that Nories is bringing back the NF 60 this coming month and that he will be well-stocked for the late summer/fall frogging season and 2019. Lee’s Bait & Tackle (www.leesglobaltackle.com; phone 847-593-6424) in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, will be among Illinois dealers carrying these and other baits in the Nories line.