Stop Michigan DNR from doubling bag limit on brook trout

brook trout

Brook trout are Michigan’s state fish.

Bryan Burroughs is executive director of Michigan Trout Unlimited, a group devoted to conservation of Michigan’s coldwater fish and their watersheds

John Voelker (pen name Robert Traver) was an iconic Michigander known for his literary works (e.g., Anatomy of a Murder, Trout Magic), and for his time as a Michigan Supreme Court justice. He was a passionate angler for Michigan’s state fish the brook trout, and spent his free time rambling around the backwoods of the Upper Peninsula in pursuit of these remarkable little fish and the beautiful places where they are found.   

One of his most famous writings is “Testament of a Fisherman,” which adeptly communicated the fundamental reasons why so many people cherish trout fishing:

I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful… because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion, because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience… because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness…”.   

Voelker also enjoyed a meal of fresh caught brook trout, but never mentioned being able to feed a feast of them to his family or friends as a primary motivation for his pursuit of trout fishing.

Right now, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Natural Resources Commission is deciding whether or not the bag limit (the daily harvest limit) for brook trout on UP streams should be doubled from 5 to 10. This commission is comprised of seven appointees of the governor, charged with legal mandates for making scientific fish and wildlife management decisions. Among the appointees are two from the U.P. that have an appetite to see the daily bag limit of brook trout doubled.

The problem however, is that the science doesn’t support it.

Five years ago, at the urging of the NRC, the DNR implemented an experimental study on the impact of doubling the bag limit on brook trout in the U.P. The NRC asserted the premise that increasing the bag limit would increase angling use of those streams.  Eight streams were listed, and a handful of them were paired with control streams and angler and fish surveys were performed for 4 years following it.  

Recent findings from the study documented that: No increase in angling activity occurred; most Michigan anglers preferred the standing 5 fish limit, and brook trout populations declined in the treatment streams while increasing in the control streams – showing a negative impact to brook trout populations from doubling the bag limit.  

Despite the results from the study which show that most people prefer the bag limit to remain at 5, that increasing the limit didn’t increase angling, that this increase can negatively affect the angling success of other anglers, and most importantly that it can decrease brook trout populations, the NRC is still proposing to double the bag limit of brook trout on 1,100 miles of U.P. streams in 2018, and has urged to DNR to return to it next year with more candidate streams to include for 2019.

The NRC is scheduled to vote on this at its meeting on Nov. 9 (Thursday).  If you want to help our state fish and you want to help ensure the NRC upholds its mandate for scientific fish and wildlife management, you can send your personal comments on this to the NRC via email to

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Tue, 11/07/2017 - 8:00am

This seems to give short attention to possible scientific rationale for increasing bag limit. Are there too many small fish in the subject waters and this is an attempt to boast the overall quality? If trying to increase participation is the only reason, it can be thrown in with NRC's other stupid moves (crossbows, only the latest) in its attempt to stem the decline in fishing and hunting participation by appealing to those who participate for the worst reasons.

Douglas G. Platt
Tue, 11/07/2017 - 10:53am

The NRC by the actions they have backed over the years proven to not be proper stewards of the environment. What they have shown is a willingness to make decisions that provide financial gain in the short term at the long term expense of the resource they should be protecting.

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 9:11pm

Between opening Lower Peninsula state forest to ORVs -- including the protected Deward Area along the upper Manistee River -- and doubling the UP brook trout bag limits, the DNR / NRC have forsaken any pretense of conservation in favor of commercial interests bent on strip mining the state's natural resources. Both are a disgrace to Michigan's long history of careful resource management and preserving the state's natural treasures for generations to come.

A. Johnathan
Wed, 11/08/2017 - 8:47am

I realize this is a hot button issue, but have people forgot that not that long ago the brook trout limit was 10? During that time the population wasn't wiped out. Just because the limit is 10 fish doesn't mean that people will keep (or even catch for that matter) 10 brookies.

Wed, 11/08/2017 - 9:40pm

When was it 10, Jonathon, and how long did they do that? I grew up in Michigan leaving in 1978 and it’d been five my entire life at that point. I moved back in 2001 and I think it’s been five from then until now as well.

Landon DeKeyser
Wed, 11/08/2017 - 3:02pm

While I am no expert, I think there may be another advantage to increasing bag limits. I strongly apposed this idea a few years back when they did the test rivers. I fish one of those rivers, and can say that it produces larger fish than any other river I target brooktrout on. I have talked to people who live out west, and they have a theory that brook trout will reproduce on some rivers so fast they will actually stunt their growth producing smaller fish on average. When you compare average fish size for brook trout in Michigan to other states we have much smaller fish. Now there may be many other reasons for that, but maybe overpopulation is one of them. While I don't know enough to make a judgment call on what is right here, I do want to share my thoughts. I think expanding the rivers that have a 10 fish limit may be a good idea. Most trout fishermen aren't going out to keep fish, so a bigger bag limit may not draw people from down state to fish UP rivers. However, if the size increases drastically from this change that may draw in more Anglers. What I would like to see is a longer study done on more rivers to see what the affect on overall size is.

Fri, 11/10/2017 - 9:30am

Must you meddle?