For The Love of Salmon
By Marty Jaranowski (2002)
What do twenty guys standing around talking their love of trout fishing do? They start an organization.. Funded in 1982 as a charter of Michigan Salmon & Steelhead Fishing Association with a core of twenty members, including Valparaiso resident John Seroczynski, Rich Hedgepeth (first president) Gene Cierniak, Jim Krmarich and Mike Ryan from Chesterton, the Northwest Indiana Steelheaders (NWIS) has grown to over 200 members today from Indiana to Illinois.
"From the beginning we knew we had to be more than a bunch of guys going fishing," said Mike Ryan. "Our primary goal then and now is education. Not only teaching how to fish, but also, how to protect the fishery and habitat."
Part of protecting the habitat is keeping it clean and rather than preach, NWIS teaches by example. They hold two major clean-ups a year. In the spring they target Salt Creek and the Little Calumet River and in the fall Trail Creek. In the town of Trail Creeks Forks at Rt. 20, the NWIS has adopted the public access site, keeping it clean and maintaining the refuse receptacles.
A project the organization is especially proud of is Creek Ridge Park along Trail Creek in La Porte County. In this three-year project they cut the roads and trails, and built the shelters. For fishing access they erected a 1,000 feet of boardwalk along the stream that is handicapped accessible, complete with several fishing platforms. For the habitat they built spawning beds and with the assistance of the Michigan City Fish & Game Club and the St Joe Valley Fly Fishers built several lunkers to save the eroding stream beds.
"The year after the spawning beds were built, NWIS with the help of the National Lakeshore Junior Rangers moved some of the rocks to see if we could find any fry," said Ryan. "You can't imagine the feeling when you look in the nets and see steelhead fry. It really makes it worth the work."
Just a few short years ago it was big news when shore anglers caught Skamania steelhead along the wall at NIPSCO's Dean Mitchell Generating Station in Gary. Nowadays, catching a Skamania is a frequent occurrence, thanks to another project called "The Net Pen Project" under the banner of Lake Michigan Sport Fishing Coalition, Inc. (LMSFC). The LMFSC was formed by NWIS along with Michigan City Fish & Game Club, Inc. , Hoosier Coho Club, Inc.,Miller Ikes-Family Fishing Club,Porter County Chapter-Izaak Walton League of America, Salmon Unlimited of Indiana, Inc., Lakeridge Boat Club,Lake County Fish & Game Protective Association,Miller Chapter-Izaak Walton League of America, Indiana's Northcoast Charter Association, Indiana Harbor Yacht Club and NIPSCO Industries also undertaking this pilot project.
In September of 1993 volunteers fin-flipped 6,550 three to five inch Skamania fingerlings at the Bodine Hatchery for the project.In November the fish were placed in a pen that measured eight feet wide by five feet deep and 25 feet long, at the Dean H. Mitchell Generating Station.
Fed twice daily, by LMSFC volunteers, these fish averaged 9.9 inches when released in March of 1994. The mortality rate was four fish lost. The project ended in 1997 with a total of 72,500 Skamania released in the southern tip of Lake Michigan.
Today the fruits of that project have made catching a skamania along the Dean H. Mitchell wall commonplace. "One reason we are proud to be associated with this (Net Pen) project - wasn't the fact that it's now giving enjoyment to area anglers," said Ryan. "But that it was a project that could only be undertaken with the co-operation of all the organizations working together, and that is the key phrase - working together."
"To fulfill our goal of education, in 1983 we started to give one-day fishing clinics at Blythe's Sporting Goods in Valparaiso," said Gene Cierniak, the first Spring Fever committee chairman. "For several years we continued with the one-day seminars until we were invited to attend the sport show held at Southlake Mall. Here we saw the interest not only in NWIS, but also saw a demand for information and equipment. However, none of the exhibitors are allowed to sell anything! Not even club memberships!"
"Well," continued Gene, "the line tightened and the float disappeared - at the next monthly meeting the cry was "why not start our own show?"
A committee was formed, meetings were held with the Porter County Tourism Board and the Porter County Fair Grounds and the Spring Fever Outdoor Show was born in 1987. "That was the first year used only one building and had about 45 exhibitors," said Cierniak. "The next year we added another building and expanded to about 65 exhibitors including a couple of boat dealers."
The 2002 show will be the first to use all three exhibition halls of the Porter County Fairgrounds to good advantage.
The The show is an eleven month project every year, after one show is over the committee and club volunteers take about a three week break and then start planning the next year's show.
"We have about 20 members on the committee and as the show is in progress many members volunteer their time to man the Steelheader booth, help set up, sell tickets and help with the kid's seminars and projects." said Cierniak.
Along with all the exhibitors an important facet of the show is its seminar schedule. Seminars run almost back-to-back during the show.Seminars range from tying a fly to to advanced stream methods for salmon and trout. A special emphasis is given to kids. Seminars are held in the mornings of the show along with the other children's activities.
Though approximately 6,800 people buy tickets for The Spring Fever Outdoor Show, nearly 8,000 people pass through its doors-kids enter free and sponsors get a discount.
"People may try to run the figures and say "Hey! These guys are making a LOT of money doing this," said Cierniak. "But, this is where most of the money for all our projects comes from. And we invite other organizations to apply for grants from NWIS to help with their projects."
Other places NWIS uses its funds is buying equipment for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources such as microscopes and centrifuges. They also produce River Watch water test kits for the volunteers. The efforts of NWIS have not gone unnoticed. They have a bevy of awards they wear with pride, including the Grassroots Organization of the Year Award from the Sportsfishing Institute, Most Active Organization from the Indiana Chapter of American Fishery Association; Building Partnerships in Fishery Management from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission; and certificates of recognition from the Boy Scouts of America, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, La Porte County Parks and Portage Parks.
One thing for sure, today the Northwest Indiana Steelheaders don't stand around long, just talking about fishing for trout!