Michigan Department of Natural Resources
St. Joseph County (T6S, R10W, Sections 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16,
17, 19, 20) and (T6S, R9W, Sections 16, 17, 18, 20)
Surveyed July 24, 1991
James L. Dexter, Jr.
Spring Creek is a designated second-quality, coldwater trout stream in
the center of St. Joseph County. It is a large second-order tributary
to the Prairie River. Shortly after the Prairie River and Spring Creek
join they empty into the St. Joseph River at Centreville.
Most of Spring Creek flows through active farmland. The underlying soils
of the creek drainage are primarily Adrian and Houghton muck, which are
very poorly drained soils. The topography is level to slightly rolling,
and ponding of water is a problem.
Spring Creek is estimated to be 28.5 miles in length and to fall only
50 feet in its total length. Its source is Washburn Lake. Several small
first-order tributaries also contribute to the stream. Most of these are
intermittent in nature. The lower 8.3 miles of the stream is stocked with
trout. The upper waters are not stocked because they lack public access.
In the three 1991 survey sites (at Rambadt, Bucknell, and Nottawa roads)
the creek averaged 23 feet wide and 18.7 inches deep. Depths range from
0 to 5 feet. Stream discharge, as measured in October 1970 for a rotenone
reclamation project, was 4 cfs at the upper end and 31 cfs at the lower
end. Fish habitat includes: undercut banks, overhanging vegetation, pools
and deep water runs (common); logs (scarce); and at one site each, watercress
and eel grass (common). Overall habitat for fish can be rated as poor
Bottom substrates in the surveyed area averaged 4% rock, 20% gravel,
53% sand, and 23% silt. Embeddedness of gravel by sand and silt is high.
Water quality information collected for this survey included pH (8.0),
alkalinity (232 ppm), and dissolved oxygen (11.2 ppm). All were measured
at Rambadt Road. Aquatic insects collected included mayflies, caddisflies,
and odonates (common), and amphipods (sparse).
Development in the watershed is limited to active farmland. Crops and
livestock are raised along the entire stream corridor, primarily by Amish
farmers. Much of the creek has a wetland edge, especially in the middle
and lower reaches. However, farm animal access to the creek is evident
everywhere, and substantial degradation of the creek has resulted. No
state-owned land occurs on the creek, and public access is very limited.
Many parcels are posted no trespassing and are fenced to keep animals
on the property.
Spring Creek has been managed as a trout stream since at least 1933.
Various combinations of brook, brown, and rainbow trout were planted through
1964. Since then only brown trout have been stocked, at the rate of 60-270
The earliest fishery survey (using electroshocking gear) on file was
in 1969. The stream received no trout plantings in 1967 or 1969. The 1969
survey, at six stations, found only four trout (11-17 inches long) and
19 other species of fish. The trout were found only at Rambadt Road, which
had the highest water temperature of the six sites (75°F). Competing
species were so numerous that a reclamation project using rotenone was
carried out in the fall of 1970. The treatment was considered very successful,
removing many competing species and only 10 trout. Restocking of fall-fingerling
brown trout occurred soon after the treatment at the rate of 270 per acre.
Additional fish surveys were conducted in 1971, 1972, 1973, 1976, and
1978. Numerous brown trout were collected in each survey (primarily at
the same three sites surveyed in 1991). However, reinfestation of the
creek was immediate. By 1971, 14 other species were present, many at high
densities. High densities of competing fish continued. It was noted in
the 1978 survey that water temperatures were higher than normal (77°F
at Bucknell Road). Investigation revealed beaver activity (one dam and
two lodges) which raised the water temperature 13°F. No further surveys
were conducted at Spring Creek until 1991.
There are three management problems on Spring Creek. First, summer temperatures
in stocked waters are high, close to lethal for trout. Second, farm-animal
access to many areas of the stream continually degrades the riparian corridor.
Third, the activities of beavers in the system (since at least 1978) may
be elevating water temperatures and limiting trout survival. There appeared
to be evidence of beaver activity during the 1991 survey, as several areas
had very deep, slow water, which the technicians did not recall from previous
The 1991 survey utilized a 250-Volt D.C. streamshocker with two probes.
A total of 22 species of fish were collected in 1 hour of electroshocking
(Table 1). Sampling was limited due to extremely deep water and poor habitat.
No trout were collected at any site. White suckers, common shiners, carp,
bluntnose minnows, and bluegill dominated the catch. Common shiners and
white suckers were so abundant at Rambadt Road that only a subsample was
Scale samples were collected from bluegill and largemouth bass. Growth
analysis (Table 2) indicates these two species were growing at the State
average rate for lakes. This indicates that the environment of Spring
Creek is more suited to these species than to trout.
Many of the species captured have free access to Spring Creek from the
St. Joseph and Prairie rivers. Others undoubtedly come from ponds that
have drainage into the system, or Washburn Lake. Therefore, even with
a successful major chemical reclamation, incursion of competing species
would be very quick.
Management of Spring Creek as a stocked trout stream should not be continued.
Period chemical reclamation would be required to thin out trout competitors.
Application of this management tool is impractical, however, because of
the continued degradation of the stream environment by poor farming practices
and possible beaver activity. News releases were made concerning the poor
results of the 1991 survey and anglers were asked to call the District
office if they have had any success on Spring Creek. No calls were received;
in fact, no calls have been received regarding this fishery in at least
7 years. Spring Creek was removed from the trout stocking list in winter
Some of the serious farm degradation sites have been reported to Surface
Water Quality Division's non-point source program. These have subsequently
been turned over the U.S. Department of Agriculture for investigation
for compliance with the right-to-farm guidelines. The status of these
situations is not known at this point. Under the right-to-farm guidelines,
the landowner is not required to do anything that the Department of Agriculture
Spring Creek should remain on the designated trout stream list as this
is the best method currently available to protect its quality from point-source
discharges. The loss of Spring Creek as a trout stream brings the number
of fishable trout streams left in St. Joseph County to two. There are
several other streams that are designated trout streams but they do not
contain fishable trout populations.
Spring Creek is now comparable to the Prairie River, Portage Creek, or
the Nottawa River. These streams all support gamefish populations but
do not contain coldwater fishes.
Fisheries Division goals into the next century should be to continue
pursuing upgraded farming practices which fence livestock from the stream
corridor, and management of potential beaver problems. While we will not
pursue the agricultural problems directly ourselves, we need to support
stricter legislation which will force farm owners to adhere to the right-to-farm
guidelines. As far as the beavers are concerned, we can only hope that
pelt prices improve so that trappers will reduce their population. Limited
access, excessive stream degradation, and unpleasant scenery all contribute
to a lack of fishing pressure on Spring Creek.
Report completed: January 1993
Table 1.-Species, relative abundance, and length of fishes collected
by streamshocker at three stations on Spring Creek, July 24, 1991.
Table 2.-Average total unweighted length (inches) at age, and
growth relative to the State average, for fish sampled from Spring Creek
with streamshocker, July 24, 1991. Number of fish aged is given in parentheses.
Table 3.-Estimated age frequency (percent) of fish caught from
Spring Creek with streamshocker July 24, 1991.
Last Update: 08/05/02