Friday, February 25, 2011

Good Takes- Trout Unlimited Miller VanWinkle chapter president Brian Kozminski

TU chapter prez, and the sharpest canoe in Northern Michigan, does life get any more charmed?

In this, my first interview, I got the chance to sit down with Brian Kozminski, the Trout Unlimited Miller VanWinkle chapter president.  We had breakfast at a fairly new establishment, the Twisted Olive, which has a stunning view of Little Traverse Bay.  Brian has lived in Petoskey for 5 years and has been the chapter president for 4 years.  Known locally as Koz, he was good enough to answer my questions.

FR:  The economy is bad- how do you get people to care about Trout? And TU in a recession?

Koz: I think especially in this area (Petoskey) there is a lot of philanthropy, a lot of people doing good things.  Organizations like the Tip of the Mitt Watershed council.  What makes it difficult is that the regular guys- they’re either unemployed, or working 2,3 jobs to get by- it’s hard to get them involved.  A lot of people see TU as a good old boys club and we need to change that.  But to get younger people involved- that’s the challenge.  I’m trying to balance between the free events, and the gentlemen who donate to our cause.

FR:  We can all go read TU’s mission statement on the website- what do you see as TU’s role in fishing and conservation in Northern Michigan?

Koz:  My biggest goal is getting the kids involved, it’s all about the next generation.  The days we grew up in, of growing up outside are over, it’s all about Wii, Nintendo, PS2 for kids now.  We’re stewards for that next generation, but I’m afraid we’ll find ourselves asking, “Why didn’t we do this, why didn’t I mentor a child?” If all we are is a bunch of guys sitting around telling stories and tying flies- I mean, that's what the FFF is for.  We have to get them outside and involved.  Between the lines, you have to realize the TU is about the fish for the sake of the fish, about healthy watersheds.

FR: It seems like everyone in Michigan loves to bash the DNR- how would you grade them?

Koz:  What a tough job.  I volunteer for various programs with the DNR and I see the dilemma they face- too many conflicting parties to please, person A wants them to stock more, person B wants habitat improvement and so on.  Then they face budget cuts- they don’t even know if they’ll have jobs next year.  Last year they were merged with the DEQ, which led to shake-ups, this year they are split again.  We’re trying to push for more gear restrictions on local streams, but the push-back is amazing.  I’d give them a B+.

FR:  Dries, wets, or streamers?

Koz:  Big streamers, definitely, but I’ve been learning some other things, tying some steelhead flies.  I’m working on nymphing, but in the end- it’s all about that topwater bite isn’t it?  I mean, to fool a big Brown on a bit of fur and feather you tied yourself- that’s where it’s at, that’s what keeps you coming back.

FR:  What conservation issues in N. MI keep you awake at night?

Koz:  Banquets and dollars! (laughing) but it’s true, trying to walk the balance and get people involved.  I drive around here all the time and I’ll see a stack of Christmas trees at the recycling center, or a stack of pallets at the News Review and think “We could be using those for bank revetments, for improvement projects”.  I also hope we don’t look back at things we’ve done 20 years from now and ask “What were we thinking, I mean, sand traps- they need to be 500 yards long and straight in order to work- what river do you know is straight?  At one point the thinking was “Stock everything” but as that book (An Entirely Synthetic Fish) points out, VHS (viral hemorrhagic septicemia) changed that- we had to stop, stop stocking.

FR:  As president of the local chapter, what do you hope to accomplish?

Koz: More awareness, more youth involvement.  We’ve grown 14% in the last 3 years, our chapter is 3rd in the state for growth, which is excellent in this economy.  TU is experiencing a certain level of attrition.  I’m trying to get people involved who wouldn’t normally, not on their own.

FR:  Does MVWcTU have any stream improvements or other projects in the pipeline it would like to flog here?

We’re mapping the Maple River Watershed for the DNR- substrates, width, depth, all of it.

FR:  Do you think there needs to be some stocking done?

Koz: No; habitat improvement, definitely.

FR:  What accomplishments are you proudest of?

Koz:  the membership improvement, certainly, but especially the Salmon in the Classroom program- going to talk to the kids.  Did you know the principal told me that when the kids come into class, that’s the first thing they do, they go check on those fish?   And that’s what it’s about- lighting them up, getting them involved.  Take a kid fishing!

FR:  Without giving away the farm, What fishing opportunities locally or in the state do you find to be the most exciting?

Koz: The Upper Manistee is great, but the Au Sable is where it’s at.  There again, it’s a catch-and-release fishery, they’re managed for the fish.  Why do people want to go there? Because they know they have a chance at a big fish, or several.  You can go to those streams, and almost forget you’re in Michigan, you’d think you’re out West somewhere- that’s what makes it so special.

FR:  What opportunities locally or in the state would you like to see expanded?

Koz: More people need to get outdoors, take a float down the Jordan or Sturgeon.  I’m not talking about fishing, just getting out there, see it, connect to a watershed as a whole.  That’s what will make people care enough to protect them.

FR:  If you could change one thing in N. MI what would it be?

Koz: There needs to be more interaction between groups, they need to work collectively towards a similar goal, keep communications open.  We’re working with CRA and Little Traverse Conservancy, and the LTTB on watersheds in our area, which is a good start.

FR:  What would you like to preserve forever?

Koz:  The Great Lakes- it’s our calling card, it’s what we are.  It’s the worlds largest freshwater resource, and it needs to be protected.  Which leads me to your next question about asian carp…

FR:  There’s been a lot of hype over the threat of Asian Carp- any comments?

Koz:  The Great Lakes just aren’t being protected.  Here’s the funny thing- Salmon were brought here to control the alewifes, which came in ships ballast.  Now the alewifes are gone, the salmon are starving, but the steelhead and lakers are thriving on the gobies and ruffe.  We’re hoping that the zebra and quagga mussels are filtering the lakes too much for the carp (asian) to take hold, but if they get into the river systems- the Kalamazoo, the St. Joe and so on, we’ll never get them out and it will be a disaster.  I mean, look what’s happened to Illinois.

FR:  Would TU- or you, like to see more stocking, or less?  More salmon, or more steelhead?

Koz:  Well, certain rivers need stocking- the Pere Marquette comes to mind, or the Manistee below Tippy.  They support good natural reproduction, but also see a lot of pressure.  Those fish are starting to come back, but it’s all cyclical.  So yeah, stocking is necessary in some places.

FR:  Fly fishing has gone from idle backwater to big business- any words of wisdom or requests for the industry?

Koz:  Don’t lose the local fly shops- the Big Box stores and Internet can’t tell you what’s hatching, can’t tell you why THAT 5 weight is the one you need.  This is the era of Walmart and Kmart, they’re not going away, but we need to support local business, and so does the industry.

FR:  Open mic- any questions or issues I’m not covering that you would like to address?

Koz:  Think back to when we were kids- I’d see these huge schools of minnows in the great lakes.  Where are they?  You just don’t see that anymore, it’s like the whole middle of the food chain is empty.  Is it possible for us to practice some minnow management?  Could we stock insects or macro-invertebrates?  I don’t know.  I mentioned this to someone and his response was that it would be way too expensive, but I can tell you, it’s not cheap to bring a Lake trout to stocking size.  Again it gets back to, how much can we control in this big aquarium, the Great Lakes?

"Our knowledge of trout is like man's tenancy on this planet: precarious and tentative."
 -R. Traver


  1. good interview FR. I agree that getting outside can improve one's attitude toward preservation, and I don't mean just in the backyard, but, on the lakes, rivers, and beautiful hiking trails and vast acres of state land we have all around us.

  2. Koz, well spoken! Thanks for representing trout and the resources we need to protect. Keep up the good work. I could'nt agree more on the importance of partnering with the younger stewards of our society.

  3. Great interview, and I love the recurring theme of Koz's message: get kids involved. Obviously I have a vested interest in seeing this happen as well ;)

  4. It goes without saying, volunteers of any organization CANNOT do so without the love and support of family. A Special Thank You to my wife, Lesley, and daughter, Simone, for many days and nights of sacrificed family time in the name of preserving cold, clean and clear water. Nice write J.
    Tight Lines,

  5. Good interview. I agree with Kirk, the next generation is vital.
    I was a little miffed by this line:
    "If all we are is a bunch of guys sitting around telling stories and tying flies- I mean, that's what the FFF is for."
    I thought FFF did as much for education and promoting fly fishing to young people as TU does... just without the coldwater focus. FFF is "all species, all waters." That being said, maybe FFF isn't doing anything to promote the sport to young people in MI, but they are in other places... I would say just as well as TU.
    Just my 2 cents.

  6. At Jay- I think it was an off the cuff comment; I'm about as uneducated about all this stuff as they come- I have no idea who or what the FFF is, so maybe I'll do some investigative reporting and do a write up. Part of why I'm doing this.

    Thanks to all for stopping by.


  7. Actually, according to a conversation I had with Phil Greenlee, President of the Federation of Fly Fishers, youth education is a key focal point of the FFF.

  8. FR: Really good interview with a stalwart of the Great Lakes. I'm from Chicago and I fear for the future of this wonderful resource.

  9. Jay, I am a member of FFF as well, I was comparing the average person's knowledge of what TU stands for- most think it is a Flies ONLY Club, and really they are both for education and promotion of our resources. Thank you for helping me carry the message.