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Dec. 4, 2023

MSU, partners working to improve Au Sable River resiliency

Researchers from Michigan State University are working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to ensure the sustainability of the Au Sable River fishery.

Situated in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula is one of the country’s most revered sport fishing destinations.

Bryan Burroughs, executive director of Michigan Trout Unlimited.
Bryan Burroughs, executive director of Michigan Trout Unlimited. Courtesy photo

The Au Sable River is a Blue Ribbon trout stream, recognizing its high-quality water accessibility, capacity to withstand angling pressure, and the presence of ideal sport fishing species. This designation can be given by the federal government or state agencies such as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Grayling serves as the de facto central point of the Au Sable, which winds more than 130 miles through several Michigan counties and eventually empties into Lake Huron. Its cold temperatures are ideal for brown, brook and rainbow trout, as well as steelhead and salmon.

Bryan Burroughs, executive director of Michigan Trout Unlimited, said the Au Sable is relatively unique in its low-slope, sandy makeup compared to other trout-rich rivers nationwide, especially steeper streams in mountainous areas of the Western U.S.

“The Au Sable is a standout in terms of the trout it sustains, as well as its reputation and lore among anglers,” he said. “It’s always listed among the top places to trout fish in the country, but information and understanding of its status and the dynamics that effect it have always been elusive. Today, we see the signs of new changes and challenges to its health.”

Indeed, new and persistent threats endanger this coveted natural resource. The Au Sable’s older pressures remain, including rebounding from previous logging and unsustainable land-use practices, but newer threats have emerged, such as climate change and invasive species.

Climate change, in particular, is of significant concern to researchers. Climbing water temperatures can harm the cold-water fish anglers covet while providing a boon to invasive species that may thrive in the more variable environment.

Alongside Michigan Trout Unlimited and other partners, researchers from the MDNR and Michigan State University are working to create a plan that protects the river and its fishery for generations to come.

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