Major: Fisheries and Wildlife Management

ProjectTitle: Status and Distribution of Brook Trout in Cheney Creek and Potential Habitat Factors Limiting Size and Abundance


The brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is one of only two species of trout native to Michigan. It is highly esteemed and sought after by anglers and also serves as Michigan’s state fish. Despite its importance and prevalence throughout much of Michigan, concern has arisen over the status of brook trout populations due to increased anthropogenic threats. Few studies have been conducted examining environmental factors that may be limiting brook trout size and abundance in Upper Peninsula streams. Although a number of natural and human-induced factors including temperature extremes (Bowlby and Roff 1986), increased sedimentation (Curry and MacNeill 2004), lack of overwintering habitat (Cunjak and Power 1987), and lack of food (Cunjak et al. 1987) have been found to limit brook trout populations in other parts of the country, determining the limiting factor(s) of a particular fish population in a given location is often a subjective matter (Bowlby and Roff 1986). 

Cheney Creek is a small tributary of the Tahquamenon River located in Chippewa County, MI. It was historically considered to have a healthy brook trout population; however, over time the brook trout population is thought to have diminished presumably due to excessive beaver activity, lack of overwintering habitat, inadequate spawning substrate, and extreme fluctuations in water level.  Local interest to conserve and possibly restore the brook trout population in Cheney Creek has prompted research on this system. Since there is a lack of data concerning the fish community in Cheney Creek, the objective of this study is to determine the current status and distribution of brook trout within and identify potential limiting habitat characteristics.  The findings from my research could be used to prioritize future management and restoration efforts of Cheney Creek and other trout streams in the region.

In order to determine the fish community structure and potential limiting habitat factors, the stream will be partitioned into three sampling sites) characterized by location (i.e. headwaters, main channel, or mouth) and differences in surficial geology (i.e. sand, silt, glacial outwash etc.) Sampling of the fish community by use of triple-pass depletion electrofishing will take place in both the fall and in the spring to determine brook trout presence and the condition of those fish present.  Sampling in two different seasons will also be useful to better understand the temporal variability of brook trout utilizing the stream. In addition, habitat parameters such as water quality and water level will be measured throughout the year with in-stream data loggers to identify possible extreme fluctuations.  Other habitat parameters such as substrate size, large woody debris, and depth and area of pools will be measured with a transect method using standard sampling protocol. In addition, macroinvertebrates will be collected using a Hess sampler and will subsequently be preserved in ethanol.

Literature Cited

Bowlby, J.N., and J.C. Roff. 1986. Trout biomass and habitat relationships in southern Ontario streams. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 115: 503-514.

Cunjak, R.A., R.A. Curry, and G. Power. 1987. Seasonal energy budget of brook trout in streams: implications of a possible deficit in early winter. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 116:817-828.

Curry, R.A., and W.S. MacNeill. 2004. Population-level responses to sediment during early life in brook trout. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 23:140-150. 

Cunjak, R. A., and G. Power. 1987. Cover use by stream-resident trout in winter: a field experiment. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 7:539-544.


Late winter of 2011: Temperature and water level loggers will be deployed in Cheney Creek to monitor fluctuations in temperature and water level throughout the sampling period. 

Spring of 2011: Sampling will be conducted in order to characterize the habitat and fish community within Cheney Creek. 

Late summer/fall of 2011: Another round of habitat and fish community sampling will be conducted. 

Fall of 2011: Temperature and water level loggers will be collected and data will be downloaded onto a computer. 

Fall/winter of 2011: Data will be analyzed and work on project report will begin. 

Spring of 2010: Project report will be finished and project findings will also be reported via a poster and verbal presentation in front of fellow students and faculty at Lake State.  Findings will also be presented to the Hiawatha Club members at their annual spring meeting.


A.Materials and Supplies: Solinst Levelogger Jr.: $385.00   
C.Software: Standard Communications package (includes software and interface cable) - $198.00
D.Project-related travel: ~ $120.00     
E.Other Related Expenses (excluding student wages): N/A        


The Solinst Levelogger Jr. and associated software and cable will be used to track fluctuations in water level throughout the sampling period from late winter through the fall of 2011. Extreme fluctuations in flow within the sampling site could indicate inadequate habitat for brook trout. Upon completion of sampling, the water level logger and software will be returned to Lake Superior State University for future use by other senior thesis students or in courses. 

Project-related travel costs include gas required to get to and from the sampling site. Sampling is expected to occur on four separate occasions. There will be a trip in late winter of 2011 in order to deploy water level and temperature loggers, and a trip in fall of 2011 to collect the loggers. Also, one trip in the spring and one trip in the fall of 2011 will be taken in order to sample habitat parameters and the fish community structure of Cheney Creek. Project-related travel costs were calculated based on a round trip distance of 137 miles from the sampling site to Sault Ste. Marie, MI, a vehicle averaging 17 miles per gallon, and an estimated gas cost of $3.50 per gallon.                       

OtherFunding: The Hiawatha Club (a landowner’s association located in Chippewa County and interested in the conservation of brook trout within Cheney Creek): $100.00 in travel-related costs Out-of-pocket: $103.00

TotalCost: $803.00

Facilities: Lake Superior State University will provide equipment related to habitat sampling including: Marsh Mcbirney flow meter, tape measures in 1 meter increments, gravelometer, Hydrolab Minisonde and calibration standards, temperature loggers, GPS unit, and Hess macroinvertebrate sampler along with ethanol and sampling bottles. In addition, the university will provide equipment to determine the fish community structure of Cheney Creek, which includes: Smith -Root backpack electrofisher, nets and associated containers to collect and process fish samples, and a measuring board and scale to determine fish weights and lengths.

Animals: AnimalsYes

FacultyMentor: Dr. Ashley Moerke


DepartmentChair: Dr. Nancy Kirkpatrick


Dean: Dr. Barbara Keller


Agreement: on