Sttelhead from Wiconsin stocking found in Rocky River? That’s a long journey…

I found an interesting story of a well traveled steelhead the other day, that supposedly swam from Wisconsin to the Rocky River in Cleveland. It’s available along with the Rocky River report from Cleveland Metroparks over here, but can be found excerpted below.

That got me thinking, maybe this steelhead is a ghost crew member from the Edmund Fitzgerald still trying to deliver it’s load? Or maybe it’s just got that steelhead wonderlust?

The long journey

The Story of a Traveling Trout.   This week Mark Fascione sent in a photo of a very stout steelhead his friend caught on the Rocky River and wanted to know what strain it could be.  He thought it could possibly be the notoriously football shaped London strain, but they have not been stocked in Lake Erie for well over a decade.  Normally it would be anybody’s guess short of genetic analysis, but in this case I noted a left pectoral fin clip (the fin closest to the head) on the fish in the photo.  I should note that Michigan has stocked fish in their Huron River, a Lake Erie tributary, with a right pectoral fin clip, and it is not unusual for these fish to show up in our streams.  Using this info, I checked the <Great Lakes Fishery Commission fish stocking database>  which revealed that the only state having performed a left pectoral clip on rainbow trout/steelhead in recent years has been Wisconsin!

The strain of trout stocked by Wisconsin, the Arlee, are known to be stout fish.  Upon contacting Wisconsin DNR about this, I received the following response from Senior Fisheries Biologist Steve Hogler:  “It is certainly possible for this to be an Arlee rainbow trout. The clips are correct and based on the photo it appears to look very similar to other Arlee trout that I have seen. If it is an Arlee, this certainly is the most distant location we have had a return from. Thanks for the information.”  His WDNR colleague Tom Burzynski further added I took a look at the photo of the rainbow trout and would tend to agree with your conclusion that the fish is an Arlee-strain fish.  The Arlees we see tend to be somewhat football-shaped, also.  Looking back at the fin clip list, I’m thinking that it was stocked in 2008. Quite a journey for the fish, that’s for sure!”  Is this proof this fish is from Wisconsin?  Not conclusive, but it appears to be the most plausible theory given the evidence.  Having the wettest year on record coupled with an unseasonally warm winter could very well have facilitated greater than normal migration of this fish.  As many of you may recall, we had record numbers of stray Chinook salmon in the Rocky River this year, which I also feel is at least in part due to all the high water.

With this in mind, envision being a trout and beginning your journey in the Wisonsin waters of Lake Michigan and swimming north to the Straits of Mackinac.  After travelling through that connection into Lake Huron, you then swim through that entire lake from its northern tip to its southern end to the St. Clair River.  Spurred onward by the unseasonally warm temperatures and so much water, you then proceed to swim downstream through that river, Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit River system.  Upon arriving in the western basin of Lake Erie you then head east and swim through a good third of Lake Erie to arrive at the Rocky River (see map below detailing this travel route).  Steelhead have been described as “a rainbow trout with a wanderlust”, and it appears that this fish could potentially be a fairly extreme example of that.  As a final note on the subject, our current Executive Director made the move from a Milwaukee, WI, area park distirct about a year ago to head Cleveland Metroparks.  So, did this fish follow him from Wisconsin to Cleveland Metroparks?  I can’t prove that last part by any means, but I will say we welcome all the Wisconsin runaway trout that want to come here!

Supporting Cleveland Metroparks’ Fishing Fund has never been easier!   As a new offering for the convenience of donors, our Manager of Gift and Donor Development has made available a very user friendly way to donate to our  Fishing Fund online.  Check out the following link for more info or to make a donation to directly support our fisheries program:  <Fishing Fund Donations Online> 

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