Fisheries and Watershed Management

With over 500 lakes and more than 2000 miles of fishable stream, and over 130,000 acres of wetlands, the Ottawa aquatic resources are abundant and diverse.

The Forest has several resources professionals and technicians in place to assure the watersheds, streams, lakes, wetlands, and riparian areas are protected and improved. They do this by participating with other resources specialists in the development of management projects through the NEPA process, particularly ones with the potential to negatively impact these resources.They also inventory for and implement a variety of fisheries, watershed, and riparian improvement projects to enhance aquatic ecosystems. Many projects are implemented and their results monitored through partnerships with organizations including Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Trout Unlimited, and University of Notre Dame to name a few.


    Information on Streams and Lakes on the Ottawa

Ottawa National Forest Hydrology (Water) Program

Question: Why do some streams and lakes have brown colored water similar to tea?

Answer: The water’s brownish tea color is the result of natural tannins produced in the numerous wetlands found throughout the Ottawa National Forest. These natural tannins leach into the surrounding streams and lakes and are generally considered harmless. Flooded streams and rivers can also have a brownish color from turbidity, which is silt, and/or clay that is mixed (suspended) throughout the water. Turbid water can be from natural stream channel erosion processes or can indicate erosion problems from upstream sources.


Question: Why do some streams and lakes have foam “soap suds” along their shores?

Answer: Stream and lake shore foam within the Ottawa National Forest is natural. Foam is created when the surface tension of water is reduced and air is mixed in, causing bubbles. Many natural organic compounds will reduce surface tension, including those from decomposing algae and fish. Organic residues from decaying leaves and vegetation from the forest floor also contain substances that help generate foam. Rain washes these substances into streams where water turbulence generates the foam. Foam is often found in back water eddies below water falls and rapids. In a lake, these organic compounds are mixed with air by wind and currents to produce foam. Foam in lakes is often found along windward shores. Natural foam typically smells fishy or earthy. Foam from soap has a perfume smell.


Question: When do lakes turn and what causes them to turn?

Answer: Most lakes in the area usually have a spring and a fall turnover. Spring turnover occurs when the surface water warms to the same temperature as the deeper relatively warmer water. Fall turnover occurs when the surface water cools to the same temperature at the deeper cold water. Once the water is all the same temperature it has the same density and therefore mixes easily with wind and wave action. So with the right temperatures and the right weather conditions, turnover could occur as rapidly as a few hours.


Question: Why do some areas on the Ottawa National Forest get so much more snow than other areas?

Answer: Much of the Ottawa National Forest is located within Lake Superior’s snowbelt. The distribution of snowfall is dependent upon several factors: the position of the storm tracks, the degree and variations in Lake Superior water temperature, the extent of Lake Superior’s ice coverage, prevailing wind directions and the frequency of strong wind speeds. Topographic contrasts along Lake Superior’s south shore also affect the intensity and spatial distribution of lake effect snowfall. The high bluffs of the Gogebic Range in the western part of the Forest tend to receive more lake effect snowfall than lower elevations in the southeastern part of the Forest, due to topography and proximity to Lake Superior.


Question: Where is the place where the waters meet?

Answer: The location where “the waters meet” is southeast of the town of Watersmeet, Michigan. This is the point where three water basins (watersheds) come together. Water flows to the south toward the Mississippi River in the Wisconsin River Watershed, north toward Lake Superior in the Ontonagon River Watershed, and east toward Lake Michigan in the Brule River Watershed.


Question: I have heard some Lake Superior beaches have periodically been closed due to poor water quality. Are there any problems with the Ottawa National Forest Lake Superior beaches? What is causing the poor water quality at some beaches?

Answer: The only beach on Lake Superior the Ottawa National Forest manages is at Black River Harbor. The Gogebic County Health Department monitors this beach for Escherichia coli (E. coli). A beach is closed if monitoring determines bacteria levels exceed Michigan water quality standard limits. Black River Harbor has a record of clean water and has not been closed due to poor water quality as of the time of this writing. To view Black River Harbor water quality monitoring data visit the following website location:  Michigan DEQ

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides more information at:

Some beaches are closed in the United States due to indications of the presence of high levels of harmful microorganisms found in untreated or partially treated sewage. This can occur from combined sewer overflows, sanitary sewer overflows, and malfunctioning sewage treatment plants. Untreated storm water runoff from cities and rural areas, boating wastes and malfunctioning septic systems can be other sources of beach water pollution. Wild and domestic animal waste can also contribute harmful bacteria into water. This can particularly be a problem where large flocks of birds congregate on beaches. Beaches in more populated areas probably have more sewage related bacterial sources whereas more remote beaches likely have more wild bird and animal related sources. E. coli bacteria do not survive long in water and factors such as wind, wave actions, and ultraviolet light from the sun help to reduce bacteria levels.


Question: Are there any water quality problems within the Ottawa National Forest?

Answer: All lakes within the Forest have fish consumption advisories due to high mercury levels. Mercury is naturally present in some areas although the levels are un-naturally high from atmospheric deposition, which is likely mostly due to fossil fuel generated power plants. Mercury can be dangerous when consumed and more information about fish consumption advisories can be found at Michigan Department of Community Health’s website:,1607,7-132-2944-13110--,00.html. The State of Michigan has scheduled TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) development for mercury in accordance with Clean Water Act 303(d) requirements as administered by the EPA. More information about TMDL development can be found at Michigan DEQ’s website:,1607,7-135-3313_3686_3728-12464--,00.html.

Another water quality concern within the Ottawa National Forest is fine sediment (silt and sand) in streams resulting from erosion. Excessive fine sediment reduces aquatic species habitat diversity and biological productivity. It fills pools and covers or infiltrates spawning and food producing substrates. Extensive sedimentation can cause a channel to become shallower and wider. Many streams within the Forest are low gradient and are unable to efficiently flush sediment.
Sediment in some low gradient streams may have originated from management activities that occurred prior to National Forest inception. These activities occurred during the late 1800 and early 1900 and included massive timber harvest, splash dams within rivers, and log drives down rivers.
Current stream sedimentation typically occurs from earth-disturbing activities, timber management, and road management. Project design and implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) prevent or minimize the amount of sediment reaching streams. Litter layers and organic layers in soil allow rain and snowmelt to rapidly infiltrate into the mineral soil. Where the mineral soil is coarse and well-drained, the soil also has high infiltration capacity. These features are prevalent through much of the Ottawa National Forest and result in little ability for rain and snow overland flow to generate erosion and subsequent sedimentation.


Question: When is the ice safe enough to go ice fishing?

Answer: Care should always be taken when venturing out on the ice. Ice thickness can vary greatly across a lake due to groundwater upwelling, stream inlets and outlets, water level fluctuations from dams, etc. Ice should never be considered to be completely safe. The following is general guidance:

   2 inches of ice or less Thin Ice! Danger!
   4 inches of ice One person with gear (200 pounds)
   5 inches of ice One snowmobile (800 pounds)
   7 inches of ice Group of people (1,500 pounds)
   8- 12 inches of ice One car (2,000 pounds)
   12-15 inches of ice Medium Truck


Additional safety tips:
• Go with a buddy and keep a good distance apart as you walk across the ice. If one of you goes in the other can call for help. The companion can also attempt a rescue if one of you is carrying rope or other survival gear.
• Wear a life jacket if walking on the ice. Life vests or float coats provide excellent flotation and protection from hypothermia. Never wear a life jacket if you are traveling in an enclosed vehicle, however, since this could prevent escape from the vehicle should it fall through the ice and become submerged.
• Carry a pair of ice picks with wooden handles with a few yards of strong cord to pull yourself up and onto the ice if you should fall in.
• Avoid driving on the ice whenever possible.
• Move your vehicle frequently. Parking in one place for a long period weakens ice. Don’t park near cracks, and watch out for pressure ridges or ice heaves. Don’t drive across ice at night or when it is snowing since reduced visibility increases your chances for driving into an open or weak ice area.
• Contact a local resort or bait shop for information about known thin ice areas.
Question: What is the goo like substance seen on the shores of Lake Superior?
Answer: Have you seen "masses of fish eggs" along Lake Superior's shoreline? Or perhaps you've encountered "pea-size blobs of gelatinous ooze." What you are actually seeing are Holopedium giberum, a native zooplankton that resides within Lake Superior and some inland lakes.
The following information was derived from Michigan DNR
H. gibberum is an open water cladoceran (small, transparent crustaceans of the order Cladocera, having the body covered by a bivalve shell from which the head and antennae extend) whose habitat is limited to cold and calcium-poor water, like Lake Superior. Unlike most cladocerans such as Daphnia, H. gibberum habitually swims upside down. Its shape is unique, looking very much like a fish egg. When it swims upside down, people will not see the very small external appendages.
Michigan DNR has received phone calls concerning "masses of fish eggs" along Lake Superior's shoreline; however, what the callers are actually observing is H. gibberum. Open shoreline is NOT its normal habitat; it inhabits the open waters. H. gibberum is not able to withstand much change in temperature, and especially unable to cope with sudden change to warmer temperatures, which is the likely cause of the death or decreased mobility of the free-swimming cladoceran. Even if they are not yet dead, they are so immobile that they accumulate in windrows along the shoreline, where they probably quickly die due to wave action, warmer waters, and eventually desiccation. What people are seeing along the shoreline is most likely the actual organism rather than merely a shell. Especially if it is still alive, it will orient upside down so that people see only the round, egg-shaped body.
The following Minnesota Sea Grant website has additional information.


Question: I'd like to take my family canoeing on a river for the day and wondered where I should go?

Answer: The Ottawa National Forest has numerous rivers with good canoeing opportunities. However, as the water level drops through the summer, particularly in drought years, some rivers can be difficult to canoe and may require portage through sections too shallow to float. This can add many hours to a trip so extra time should be planned during low flow periods for unanticipated portages. The following website has good information for many of the rivers in the area.


question: i'm going fishing and would like to know what fish have been stocked?

answer: the state of michigan is responsible for fish stocking in michigan waters and the following michigan department of natural resources website has information pertaining to stocking.