Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Is There a "Typical" Run Picture?

    This question is one of the big ones we're trying to answer with the Creel Project. It's big because if we can get a general idea of what a typical run looks like, we can theoretically utilize current data to establish a baseline and visualize what's likely to happen over the course of a given regions run. It becomes both a planning tool as well as a general question answering tool.

    This is of course, an oversimplification. Conditions vary greatly from stream to stream with respect to stream size, length to barrier, rate of warming, rate of returns, flows, angling pressure etc. Still, gathering and validating that general picture certainly helps clarify our understanding of just what does tend to happen from year to year over the course of the returns.

    Probably one of the best data sources to use with respect to that typical run picture is the Minnestota DNR's French and Knife River trap data. The traps intercept up bound fish and the data is captured in real-time. The numbers themselves from year to year aren't of primary importance to the Creel Project run picture; but the start, peak and overall length create a visual signature we can use to compare year to year results. The following is a pretty good example, hopefully it will clarify what we're talking about:
    For now, ignore the red Population line. More about that in a minute. What we've done here is to filter out the actual numbers captured, what we're interested in getting at is the shape of the blue line over time. You're looking at the actual combined French and Knife trap results from 2012. This includes both Kamloops as well as Steelhead.
    Very generally we see a start point the week of March 19th, in reality this is a zero point as no fish were actually captured. The run initiation temperatures were reached between March 24th and March 26th. Rainbows began upstream migration in their greatest numbers, and returns peaked the week of March 26th. Subsequent to that point, returns to trap tapered off with the last fish captured the week of May 7th. May 14th was the end with no fish captured that week and is again a zero point.
    So is this what a "typical" run literally looks like? Consider the evidence: We have numerous years of trap data to compare against, both in terms of unique trap (French vs. Knife) as well as combined trap. What the data tells us so far is that returns to trap tend to peak within the first 7-10 days of the Lower Shore index stations reaching initiation temp thresholds. While the temp numbers previously were an aggregate average based upon several index stations, we now have temp data available specific to the Knife River. We will use that data in 2014 to compare against Knife River trap data to get a more accurate picture. The problem with the older data was that the index streams were all smaller than the Knife, and tended to warm far more quickly. Because of that we did not know for sure when initiation temps were reached on the Knife, but it was pretty close...
    So far, the vast majority of the trap data looks very similar to what's depicted above. So similar in fact that we are confident, at least for now, that this probably is the typical run picture: A sharp peak immediately post-initiation threshold followed by approximately 4-6 weeks of subsequent returns albeit at much lower levels. The current assumption is that this picture applies across all regions of the Shore. But of course, we didn't stop there. We also wanted to use the Creel Project to see what the angling side of the picture looks like, and whether or not it validated the so-called typical run picture. Here's what we've found so far-

    Using all four years of project data, and comparing Lower to Lower, Mid to Mid, and Upper to Upper Shore data, the creel data shows a very similar picture of the progression: A sharp increase in returns immediately post-initiation temps, a peak of approximately 7-10 days, and returns tapering off but continuing for an additional 4-6 weeks. The difference between this signature and the trap signature lies in the fact that it's not a single point-source like the trap(s) is/are. Fish are also sampled from all portions of the streams.
    The other point to consider is the effect of in-stream populations of fish on the run progression/signature. We think the creel project signature is a little fatter because fish tend to remain in the stream for some period of time; we just don't know precisely what that time period is. We know from the scientific literature that down bound adults have been re-captured up to 60 days after initial up bound capture on the Knife. This probably is on the extreme end of length of stay in the stream as most North Shore streams are smaller and warm more quickly overall. The fish enter, do their business, and then leave more quickly; but they still likely stay for a number of days.
    One thing we did (and this was art/guessing on our part), was to use various in-stream population models to see what the effects of various length of stays (1 week, 2 weeks etc.) did to the trap signature. If you look at the 2012 trap numbers above, we ran various population models to try and compare against what we were seeing in the Lower, Middle and Upper Shore signatures. What we found was that a 1 week population model (80% adult fish remaining in-stream for at least 7 days) gave us the closest signature to the creel signatures from a run-picture/progression standpoint. We still don't quite know if this is significant, but it does suggest that adult fish remain in the streams for around 5-7 days while doing their thing. Or we could be completely wrong, more data needed.
    All of this information is useful. Minnesota Steelheader tracks in-stream conditions on an annual basis for each region of the shore. We typically post what those conditions are generally for each region without posting specific streams. If you see that initiation temps have been met and know roughly how long they've been above that point, you can use the charts to do a little planning regardless of where you want to fish on the North Shore. If you can get out and fish every day, probably not as important. If you have to plan and travel, this information becomes a great tool; but YOU still have to make the decision about which region to fish, which stream, which presentation, which bait or fly.
    So that's what we have for now, we're not married to the data or the conclusions. As more information comes in we'll continue to update, consider, analyze and modify.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Building the Historical Context

    The last thing we do as part of building the Creel Project framework, is to nest all of the regional data into what you might think of as a historical picture for the runs along the entire North Shore.

Shorewide Snapshot 
    What you see here is a sort of visual representation of the data nesting. The green line is the actual 2013 Upper Shore Creel Project data. This was combined with the 2010, 2011 and 2012 Upper Shore Creel Project data to create the blue line. The blue line represents all of the historical data for the Upper Shore Region. This is in turn combined with the Lower and Middle Shore historical data to create the red line for a unified historical snapshot of the entire North Shore.
    Over time, a picture should develop for each region as well as the entire Shore. This should allow us to begin answering questions people ask about fishing North Shore Steelhead. It should also allow you to look at all of the posted data to draw conclusions about what you want to do and when.
    Of course, this is an over simplification of what's represented. Although it's not a scientific creel, we do vett the creel data against as much of the specific Minnesota scientific literature as we can find. It's important to us to provide you the best information possible, which is why we also compare what we collect in the context of the flow and temperature data from mutliple sources, including that of our Great Lakes neighbors. We also look very closely at the trap data. This helps us to better incorporate what is currently known about all of those flow and temperature interactions with the fish to gain a better understanding of runs in a given year.
Latest Shorewide Historical Picture
    So we're back to where this all started just a short while back. Red line illustrates the cumulative creel numbers. The blue line is there to give you a feel for the average creel sample size being collected in a given year. We're hoping this continues to increase as participation grows. Couple things about the chart: Earliest in-stream data (fish caught and reported) collected week of March 12th. This was the result of an anecdotal "early" run. Latest in-stream data collected the week of June 25th. Here we're not so sure whether this is the result of an anecdotal "late" run, or if we simply have fish in the tribs that late on average; again, only time and data will tell.  
    O.k. I know, some of you are asking, "What does all this gobble-de-gook mean for the average steelheader?" We're getting there; bear with us. We had to lay the foundation because we want you to be confident we aren't just blowing smoke out our... well, you know, hind ends so to speak.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Even more 2013 Creel Project Analysis

    As we continue to build the foundation for future data, one of the things we are doing along with gathering all of the specific annual data, is to start creating longer-term historical data for each region of the North Shore: Lower Middle and Upper. Annual data helps us see the direct interactions between flow, temperature and fish movement. Placed into a regional historical context, we begin to see the larger patterns in start, peak and end of run. We also begin to get a peek at the length of the run for given regions.

    Now, you have understand a few things about this larger picture; fluctuations in year to year weather have all kinds of effects on the run. Early warmups kick it off sooner, late warmups kick things off later, rapid warmups tend to compress the length of the run, while more gradual warming seems to expand or lengthen the run. So far this is the general picture developing in the data.

    We'll talk about what the relationships are later between the annual, regional historical and overall historical picture, but for now here is the regional historical picture:

Lower Shore
    Lower Shore probably gives us our best picture simply because more people fish there compared to other regions, so we just have more data to work with. Keep in mind with all of the charts here that you are looking at four years worth of aggregate numbers. Represented in those numbers are what could be described as an "early", "normal" and "late" run (my terms). That is to say we have years represented where the run kicked off very early, late and so forth from an anectdotal perspective. Because of that you can't draw conclusions about the overall length of the run on the Lower Shore from the chart. The annual data helps us with that, but where these charts are useful is they do (given enough data), begin to illustrate the typical peak of the run. You can also plug them into a sort of Shore-Wide aggregate to get a high-level view of the run picture. More on that to come.
Mid Shore 

    Mid Shore is a bit of a character. Here you see the heavy influence of an early and late run. As we gather more data, the chart theoretically should normalize somewhat with regards to the totals where we don't see the wild fluctuations, but only time and data will tell. Who knows, we might find some surprizes, and that's what the Creel Project is all about. I'm not willing to try and interpret much from this one, even running a 9pt. moving average trend to try and filter out some of the data noise just leaves me scratching my head. My apologies, I really geeked out there for a second... So far all I'm willing to say is that Mid Shore appears to closely mirror Lower Shore with respect to peak creel, maybe.

Upper Shore
    Here again we see an early run influence, despite that we're starting to see a solid peak around the first of May, some three weeks after the Lower Shore. That said, we have a solid month of prime steelheading based upon the data we've captured so far. What's not so clear about the Upper Shore is how long does it last? The steep drop in numbers after May 28th probably isn't due to the lack of fish, it's more likely that it's simply a lack of anglers out fishing the tribs at that time. 2013 wasn't a year I would consider out of the ordinary, and the folks we did get reports from were catching fish well into the third week of  June. We also have plenty of reports from prior to the official start of the creel project reporting fish into July in some cases.
    So far we're looking at approximately 3 months of steelheading in the tribs. At least one month of that looks to be prime steelheading with fish being at peak or slightly post-peak depending on where you are. Add on fish (Kamloops and Steelhead) staged in the lake on the front end, and you're looking at a season that's easily 4 month long and allows for every technique you care to try to be employed.
More to come-


Sunday, December 15, 2013

More 2013 MS Creel Project Analysis

    Very late, but trickling in as promised...

    Minnesota Steelheader would first like to thank YOU! Without your voluntary participation in the Creel Project, we would not be able to put together information that benefits us all. MS followers rose spectacularly to the challenge in 2013, and it is beginning to pay significant dividends with respect to the who, what, why, where, when and how of North Shore steelhead fishing.

    I think once all of the 2013 results are in, we'll put together a sort of executive summary that places all of the data into a historical, current and future context. That way all of you data-junkies can pick it apart, make suggestions, tell us we're full of beans, whatever. That kind of thing is important because it helps us make the content that much better, and more understandable for everyone.

    So without further typical rambling on my part:

2013 Lower Shore Results

     One of the problems we had in 2013 from an analysis standpoint was that the floods from 2012 knocked out the Knife trap along with all of the various monitoring stations, so we have no temperature and limited French trap data to consider in the context of the creel data. Based upon the rest of the Middle and Upper Shore information, we know there once again was a strong correlation between the daily average and high stream temps, and when adult steelhead began their upstream migrations en-masse. So while we can't demonstrate that point in the Lower Shore chart, there are some interesting things here.
    Run initiation temps likely hit the week of April 30th. We probably would have seen more significant catch but for the flows. This is a great illustration of the relationship between flows and fish movement. What we know from the DNR scientific literature is that there is a point with respect to flow velocities and volume at which upstream movement ceases for all intents and purposes. On the Knife for example, this threshold is right around the 500CFS (cubic feet per second) mark as noted in the literature. Fish that already are in the stream will hunker down in whatever cover they can find, and anglers have to adjust tactics accordingly. Looking at the week of April 30th note that peak flows on the Knife, which is the index station we use for charting Lower Shore creel, averaged around 1150cfs.
    By the week of May 7th, average flows were dropping to near the 500cfs threshold, and creel increased accordingly for likely two reasons: More people out putting in more time as conditions improved, and more new fish moving into as well as up through the various tributaries. Keep in mind that you can use stations like the Knife to infer what conditions are like on surrounding tributaries, and therefor make decisions on go/no go; so keep that 500cfs mark in mind when thinking about the Lower Shore.We're not saying fishing is futile when flows are above 500cfs, but you will definitely have to change tactics.
  2013 Mid Shore Creel Results
       We had good early participation in the Creel Project on the Mid Shore. This is important because it is critical to us to capture more data on what you might call the front end and back end of the run. Typically the DNR creel, which is a scientific creel, is structured in a much different way. There are also budget constraints which limit the time frame in which the Creel Census folks are out and working; and those gaps are the ones we are trying to fill in the data. Two interesting things to note here: The first is the strong correlation between the temperature initiation threshold and returns to creel. Note the sharp increase in catch once the threshold is reached (week of May 7th).
    The second item is the creel and flow relationship. Here again we see that during the initial portion of the run, higher flows during the week of April 30th to May 6th barely produced a blip in catch (Kamloops being a different story, see Upper Shore notes); however once we reached the threshold, the subsequent bump in flow the week of May 28th, steelhead catch rates also increased. Now I know, it's not that clear because we lost data transmission from the station around May 21st, but we have just enough to illustrate the point.
    What I currently believe, and this has been validated over and over again in the both the creel and trap data, is that stream temperatures appear to have the greatest influence over fish movement during the initial portions of the run. It goes a long way towards explaining why some years you have rock-star flows early on, but nobody seems to be catching fish. Once those initiation temperatures are hit, and stream temps remain above that threshold, flow appears to take over as the primary influence on upstream fish movement.
2013 Upper Shore Creel Results
    Once again, strong apparent correlation between the run initiation temp threshold and creel. Note the higher Kamloops catch very early on. The DNR scientific literature notes slightly lower run and spawning temps in Kamloops and I believe we are seeing that here as well as in the Mid Shore numbers above. Higher flows during the week of May 21st (post initiation temp) appears to have triggered quite a bit of subsequent upstream movement. I suspect that the peak flows along the Upper Shore around the 21st were flirting with that flow threshold where upstream movement ceases, which might explain the delay between this flow bump and the peak of the creel; only more time and data will tell.
    Other interesting items of note from 2013 are that runs appeared to have kicked off more or less simultaneously shore-wide, but this isn't always the case. Historically what we see is a somewhat orderly progression from south to north. In fact we see this and can track it from southern Lake Michigan, up through the South Shore of Lake Superior, along the North Shore and on up into Canada.  Much of this is due to the difference in latitude and the rate at which each geographical region warms in the spring (Climate). The historical data shows us this because it filters out the local year to year fluctuations in the rate of warming. Those local fluctuations (Weather) are the primary reasons you can't predict "The Run" from year to year; but you can use the historical data along with charting local stream conditions, e.g. temps, to get a feel for when things might get going. This is where annual Creel Project data pays dividends.
    At any rate, more to come. I'll keep plugging in the numbers and doing some analysis, we need to glean what we can from the 2013 trap data, incorporate it, then plug it into the historical data.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Preliminary 2013 MS Creel Results

    Ok, I'm cheating a little bit here with just a teaser, but it's been an extraordinary year for many of the MS staff with ups, downs and everything in-between. Bottom line is we're all volunteers with responsibilities outside of MS and it has been BUSY!

    I still have some more heavy lifting to do, but what you are looking at are the preliminary results of both the cumulative creel as well as the means or average returns to creel. All of the granular detail for 2013 is still being prepared, but there is still enough interesting stuff here to talk about.

    Some of the questions we're trying to answer with the creel project are pretty basic at first glance. They are also the first questions we get asked by folks new to the North Shore steelhead fishery: When do they run, how long do they run etc.? Those are also consequently the same questions vets ask when they venture to new water in WI, MI, OH, PA, NY and the West Coast, so it's not a bad review because oftentimes, you find some surprizing tidbits that challenge what you thought you knew...

    At any rate, numbers of fish on the left, week start date on the bottom. Each date division covers a 7-day period, so the start begins with March 12th and ends on March 18th irrespective of the year the data falls into.

    The overall picture beginning to form is that our steelhead "season" runs nearly 4 months! You have to remember that a very early or very late thaw in an exceptional year will skew the numbers towards the beginning of March or into July respectively, so you have to view either end of the chart with that in mind. We also don't have a lot of good data on the very early and very late stage of the run, but the MS creel is certainly going a long way to flesh that picture out, and we thank YOU for that!

    What you can see is that by the end of March, catch rates are typically picking up, mainly comprised of Kamloops with some steelhead mixed in. Most of the first peak is dominated by Kamloops in fact, which fits the trap data with regards to the lower run-initiation temps and slightly lower spawning temperature threshold illustrated in the DNR data.

    Mid-April is go-time as the vets are aware. This peak is driven primarily by Lower Shore returns comprised of both kamloops and steelhead although there is a Mid Shore component hidden in there.

    What's really starting to catch my eye, particularly due to the great participation in the creel by MS followers, is that last peak. Comprised of predominantly Mid and Upper Shore fish, I was astounded at the fact that this peak is 75% of the "Go-Time" peak. It's dominated by steelhead, and while there are kamloops mixed in there to be sure, compare these returns to the mid-April peak where angler numbers are at their highest. Now think about mid-May when most people are out chasing walleye or gobblers and stream trout, and things begin to get very interesting.... THAT, as they say is some really good bang for the buck.

    There's more to come, we've only begun to scratch the surface; and we don't always spell out everything that we are seeing or perhaps know after looking at the data. But the journey to discovery is half the fun, so stay tuned, look carefully and consider. Hopefully you'll mine a gem from the data that will ultimately conclude with you battling a silver freight-train, amidst cedar and balsam-scented rapids, far from here.