Sunday, July 12, 2009

Trout in the St. Joseph River Valley of Michigan: 20th Century Distribution

The St. Joseph River valley has been described thusly by Wesley and Duffy (1999):
The St. Joseph River basin, located in southwest Michigan and northwest Indiana, is the third largest river basin in Michigan. The river begins in Michigan’s Hillsdale County at Baw Beese Lake, and flows in a northerly arc before turning south and entering Indiana. The river flows west across Indiana before making an abrupt turn to the north at South Bend. It re-enters Michigan in southeastern Berrien County and flows northwest until it reaches Lake Michigan between the cities of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. The St. Joseph River mainstem is 210 miles long and its tributary streams total an additional 1,641 miles (Brown 1944). The river drains a watershed of 4,685 square miles: 3,000 square miles in Michigan and 1,685 square miles in Indiana.
Trout (Family Salmonidae) are not native to any of the streams in the St. Joseph River system. Three species—Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), Brown Trout (Salmo trutta), Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)—were introduced to various streams within the drainage by the Michigan Department of Conservation (forerunner of the Department of Natural Resources) in the latter decades of the 19th century or the early decades of the 20th century.

Wesley and Duffy (1999a) divided the St. Joseph River watershed into five valley segments (Headwaters, Upper, Middle, Lower, and Mouth) based on physiographic characteristics. These river valley segments are illustrated here.

A picture of the historic (1928-1964) distribution of non-native trout throughout the Michigan portion St. Joseph River watershed comes to light by reviewing the presence of trout in creel-census data gathered by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (Wesley and Duffy 1999b).

Trout of 1-3 species were recorded in 41 (76 percent) of 54 streams in the Michigan portion of the St. Joseph River drainage at which creel censuses were conducted between 1928 and 1964. The percentage of streams in which trout were present and caught by sport anglers ranged from a low of 14 percent in the Upper segment to 100 percent in the Lower (including McCoy Creek) and Mouth segments. Details follow:
  • Headwaters: 50 percent (1 of 2 streams)
  • Upper: 14 percent (1 of 7)
  • Middle: 64 percent (9 of 14)
  • Lower: 100 percent (16 of 16)
  • Mouth: 100 percent (14 of 15)
  • TOTAL: 76 percent (41 of 54)
  • These figures illustrate that, within the St. Joseph River watershed (and especially among streams within the Lower segment of that watershed), McCoy Creek was not unusual in providing trout-fishing opportunities to sport anglers in the period from 1928-1964.


    Brown, C. J. D. 1944. Michigan streams: their lengths, distribution and drainage areas. Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division Miscellaneous Publication 1.

    Wesley, Jay K., and Joan E. Duffy. 1999a. St. Joseph River assessment (.pdf). Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division Fisheries Species Report 24, 116 pp.

    Wesley, J. K., and Joan E. Duffy. 1999b. St. Joseph River assessment. Appendix 2 (.pdf). Miscellaneous historical creel data. Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division Fisheries Report 24: 117-227. URL:



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