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Michigan Grayling History

Michigan Grayling History

In the 1870’s the Au Sable River became a destination for fisherman worldwide. Trains packed with fisherman would arrive in Grayling, each hoping to spend a week or so along the “Holy Waters” of the Au Sable. The Michigan Grayling was renowned both for its beauty and for its voracious appetite. Long leaders with three and even four flies were attached to a line, and often yielded multiple fish per cast. The number of fish caught and kept was extraordinary, often upwards of 100 fish, per person, per day.

According to William J. Mantague, “One spring the Grayling were running up the Hersey. We noted they had some difficulty passing an obstruction in the stream, so we placed a canoe crosswise at that point and caught over seven hundred one afternoon.”….*

The Grayling were eaten. They were packed in ice, loaded onto railway cars, and shipped by the thousands of tons per year to the larger metropolitan areas. In some instances, they were tossed on the banks and buried in mounds.

At the same time, the lumbermen came and cut down centuries-old growth of virgin white pine. The land leading to the rivers was stripped as well, slashed and burned, and the logs floated downstream to the large mills and cities during the spring run-off. The rivers were cleared of logs and debris, places were the Grayling flourished. Shallow riffles were trenched out and deepened, and dams were built so that the flow of the river could be better controlled. Vegetation on the banks of the rivers was cleared as well, and the river slowly filled with sand. The sand filled the deepest pools and covered the Grayling’s spawning beds. By 1885, the Grayling had disap peared from the AuSable River. And in a period of ten to twenty years, a land unrivaled for it’s fishing and beauty, became a barren wasteland of stumps and empty pools.

*From On The History of Trout Planting and Fish Management in Michigan, F.A. Westerman, March 10, 1961


The State of Michigan stocked 145,000 yearling Arctic Grayling into 13 inland lakes and 7 streams in Northern Michigan between 1987 and 1991. Eggs were taken from sources in Wyoming and the Northwest Territories of Canada, where wild Grayling still exist.

Good survival until age 5 occurred in only one lake, which was closed to fishing, patrolled to detect poachers, and which held only a few brook trout. Most of the Grayling planted in the rivers disappeared within 6 months. The Department of Natural Resources chose to discontinue their attempts at stocking Grayling in Michigan.