Bucket Brigades bring trout to the Tahkoaminon River – tap and guide

Bucket battalions, in which firefighters pass buckets of water along a human chain, were an important method of fighting fires before the invention of manually pumped fire engines. While its usefulness in fighting fires has long since disappeared, the technique is still valuable in some situations, such as storing brown trout in the Tahkoaminon River.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources usually stocks fish when launching boats, but the Tahquamenon River between the upper and lower falls is only accessible via a 116-step staircase from the walking path to the river’s edge. The best way to transport 4,000 brown trout from a storage truck to the river is by bucket brigade.

“DNR has stocked brown trout in the Tahquamenon River at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Chippewa County since 1956,” said Corey Kovacs, a DNR Fisheries biologist in Newberry.

This unique section of the river offers a development-free remote fishing experience. Although challenging and not done by many, one won’t see a single cabin as you float from Upper Falls to Lower Falls. The area around Lower Falls is also unique to fly fishing in that it is very wide and allows long casts, similar to western rivers. Although trout fishing rates may be higher in other Michigan rivers, a 2013 survey of fishermen showed a higher rate of satisfaction with their overall fishing experience in this part of the river.

“Although we don’t get a lot of hunter reports, the reports we do get are very positive,” Kovacs said. “In 2023, DNR plans to further assess hunter use by placing tracking cameras in the Lower Falls area.”

In 2008, Tahquamenon Falls State Park interpreter Theresa Neal came up with the idea to engage local students from Whitefish Township Community School in Paradise with fish stocking. Previously, fish were pulled up and down the stairs one bucket at a time by a few DNR fishery technicians and state park employees.

“Finding enough staff available to assist with the warehousing effort has always been a challenge,” Neil said. “It dawned on me one day that the local school asks for a field trip every spring, so why not include them in this unique fish stocking experience.”

Whitefish Township School has also been raising salmon in its classroom for a number of years, so the field trip has evolved into a fish-themed event. Students shoot salmon in the morning at Rivermouth Campground, then go to Upper Falls to shoot trout.
Trout are loaded, 10 to 20 at a time, into 5-gallon buckets about half full with water. The total effort ends up with about 300 buckets with a total weight of about 6000 lbs. In recent years, brown trout stock has averaged 7 to 8 inches long.
It is quite impressive to watch the buckets being loaded and passed by the students who really enjoy the job and the overall experience.
Peggy Imhoff is the science teacher at Whitefish Township Community School that Neal coordinates each year to make the field trip a success.
“Our students look forward to the fish stocking event each year,” Imhof said. “It’s a time we all come together for a common purpose, celebrate living things and help our environment!”
DNR produces tens of millions of fish for stocking each year across the state. To learn more about stocking records, see the DNR Fish Stock Database.
For more information about Tahquamenon Falls State Park, visit Michigan.gov/TahquamenonFalls.

Written by Patrick Hanshin
Michigan Department of Natural Resources

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