Creel survey continues on Hamlin Lake

March 25, 2019

HAMLIN TWP. — Anglers on Hamlin Lake this year might get to know Nick Arend.

The Traverse City resident is a Michigan Department of Natural Resources employee conducting a year-long creel survey on Hamlin Lake.

Arend said he will be at the lake every weekend and two other days weekly asking anglers a variety of questions about their Hamlin Lake fishing experience. The weekdays are computer selected so as to randomize the survey for statistical reasons.

He began at Hamlin Lake in January visiting shanties via snowmobile or talking to anglers from the access points such as Wilson Hill Park on the upper lake. As the ice leaves the lake, Arend will expand his visits to parking lots at Victory Park, Ludington State Park and elsewhere in Hamlin Township plus he’ll be on the water seeking out anglers by boat.

Arend said he keeps the interactions with anglers conversational. Though he is not a conservation officer, he said, “every person I pull up to pulls out their license.”

Enforcement is not his role, gathering information to help manage the fishery is.

“Usually people are nice,” Arend said.

He asks anglers what they are catching and keeping, what they are releasing, how long they have been fishing that day and with how many lines. Even details such as are they using artificial or natural bait and method of fishing — jigging, casting and so forth — as well as their place of residence is gathered.

This winter, Arend saw one muskie being taken and learned of two others caught on Hamlin. The DNR has been stocking large predatory gamefish in the lake in recent years. Getting an idea from anglers about how efforts such as muskie and walleye planting are doing, a general consensus on how fishing is on the lake and asking anglers to compare current fishing to previous years also are part of the study.

Mark Tonello, DNR fisheries biologist for the region that includes Mason County, said the creel surveys and fish surveys via netting and electroshocking, provide important information that helps with management decisions. The last creel survey was done at Hamlin Lake in 2009.

The idea for a new creel survey was floated during an informal meeting between about 20 Hamlin Lake anglers and stakeholders and the DNR last summer about concerns expressed by some that the fishery in the lake had declined. Wayne Andersen, Hamlin Lake Preservation Society president, suggested the DNR replicate the 2009 creel survey, but was told Hamlin Lake was not on the schedule. Subsequently, the DNR considered the idea and decided to conduct the creel survey this year as long as funding allowed.

“We will be able to compare what the fishery is like now to then,” Tonello said. “We know how important Hamlin Lake is to the local economy and what an amazing fishery resource is. The creel survey data will help us do a number of things.”

Knowing what people are fishing for and what they are catching will help with decisions such as whether to stock more or less walleye and muskie and how to maintain a balance so that species such as bluegill don’t get stunted.

The numbers generated also will help the DNR determine economic impact of Hamlin Lake Fishing on the local economy.

After asking Tonello if private funding would help, and being told it would be appreciated, Andersen contacted the Mason County Fin & Feather Club, which approved a $3,000 donation, the Hamlin Township Board, which appropriated about $2,000 it had received in a donation directed for use at Hamlin Lake, and will ask the HLPS board for creel survey funding support when it meets in April. As part of annual memberships, people may add donations directed to the HLPS fish fund for the lake.

“I think this survey data will provide the answer to the current status of the Hamlin Lake Fishery. I appreciate that MDNR Fisheries has accommodated our request for this survey. I think the survey has been well received from comments I have heard,” Andersen said.

As for the ice fishing season apparently over, Arend said Hamlin Lake was “really good for early ice for two weeks, then shut right off. The ‘polar vortex’ shut it down.”

Since then, reports from anglers showed sporadic success. An angler might get 30 crappies fishing a spot one day, Arend said, and then only four at the same spot the next day. Early in the season people were catching a limit of bluegills.

Arend does more than ask anglers questions.

“I try to be nice. I try to give information,” he said.