Eagle’s View From the Air
The view flying over US 31 north of Elk Rapids is amazing! To the west lies Grand Traverse Bay in Lake Michigan. The Grand Traverse Bay Watershed covers a large area — 500 square miles. A portion of the watershed includes the Elk River Chain-of-Lakes Watershed. which supplies 60% of the surface water flowing into Grand Traverse Bay. East of Lake Michigan, lies the smaller Torch Lake Watershed.
At several places there is less than a mile between the Torch Lake and Lake Michigan. In ancient times this the narrow strip of land between these two bodies of water was an island, but sand has filled in and blocked off the surface flow of water.
The Torch Lake Watershed is located in the middle of the Chain-of-Lakes Watershed:
Upper Chain: Headwaters begin in the Hitchcock Swamp, Beals Lake, Scott’s Lake, Six Mile Lake, St. Clair Lake, Ellsworth Lake, Wilson Lake, Benway Lake, Hanley Lake, Intermediate Lake, Intermediate River
Middle Chain: Lake Bellaire, Grass River, Clam Lake, Clam River, Torch Lake
Lower Chain: Torch River, Lake Skegemog, Elk Lake, Elk River- mouth
The Torch Lake Watershed is small in area… only 76 square miles.
Compared to the other watersheds:
- Lake Michigan Watershed – 22,300 square miles
- Grand Traverse Bay Watershed – 500 square miles
- Houghton Lake Watershed – 712 square miles (Michigan’s largest inland lake when ranked by surface area)
Our watershed has more land than water:
- 62% land (47 square miles)
- 38% water (29 square miles)
- Our watershed holds almost 1/3 of the water stored in all of Michigan’s inland lakes.
Our watershed stores water in many places:
- Lakes: Torch Lake, Thayer Lake
- Rivers: Clam River flows west into Torch Lake, Torch River flows south out of Torch Lake
- A–Ga–Ming Creek
- Eastport Creek
- Wilkinson Creek
- Meggison Creek
- Bonny Brook
- Spencer Creek
- More than 40 other unnamed creeks
From my point of view, it should be easy to protect magnificent Torch lake, because it is surrounded by just 47 square miles of land.
Only 5 acres in the Torch Lake Watershed have been protected through land conservation.
White-tailed Deer’s View From the Land
Finding water to drink in the hills around the Torch Lake watershed is a challenge…if you’re a deer. The hills surrounding Torch Lake form its boundary. Only a few man-made ponds or perched wetlands are found here and there.
- Land in our watershed has more woods and fields than wetlands:
- Woodlands – 62% 15,692 acres
- Farmlands – 25% 6,464 acres
- Wetlands – 2% 622 acres
- Residential – 11% 2,677 acres
- We share 225, 455 acres in the Torch Lake Watershed with more than 5,000 humans.
- 4819 parcels
- 1923 homesteads
- 1680 riparian landowners
- Rainwater and melting snow either soak into the soil to replenish the groundwater or flow downhill into streams and the lake. So, we have to travel downhill to the lake to drink. This was easy until people started driving cars and trucks on paved roads.
- There is no continuous paved road around Torch Lake — either at the lake level or along the ridge of hills surrounding the lake. A few times a day, we move back and forth across the road through wildlife corridors; and it’s dangerous. Some people slow down and enjoy watching us, especially when we have spotted fawns with us.
- In winter, we cross the road more often to find food and shelter. We used to find shelter in wetlands, but many of the cedar swamps along Torch Lake have been filled, so people can build houses. We eat people’s shrubs and landscaping plants in their yards, as well as cedar trees along the shore.
From my point of view, only 622 acres of wetlands remain in the Torch Lake Watershed. None have been protected by land conservation.
Smallmouth Bass’s View In the Water
Torch Lake is a challenging place to live for a small fish.
There’s not a lot of food to eat. Trees have been removed from along the shore, so spawning areas for smaller fish and minnows have disappeared. That means we don’t have as many little fish to eat.
A lot of other species of fish compete for the limited food supply. Yellow perch*, largemouth bass*, rock bass, lake herring (cisco), rainbow trout, brown trout* and white suckers look for food in the lighter aqua water along the shores of Torch Lake and the turquoise water (10-50′) near the drop-off.
The lake is big and hiding places are few and far between.
Torch Lake is a very big lake. Holding more than 858 billion gallons of water, it contains more water than any other inland lake in Michigan. Torch Lake is 19 miles long and up to 2 miles wide. With its water surface area covering 18,800 acres, it is Michigan’s second largest lake in surface area.
So…there’s lots of room for fish to swim, but not a lot of places to hide. Old logs, big boulders, sunken boats and a few weedy patches provide protection from predators. Newly installed fish shelters are helping to create more hiding spots.
- There are a lot of really big predators.
- Torch Lake’s the deepest inland lake in Michigan. Some spots are more than 300 feet deep!Great big fish (lake trout, northern pike, lake whitefish and Atlantic salmon) live in the indigo waters toward the middle of the lake,where it’s very cold (45-55 degrees F) and very deep (100-300 feet)!
- Cold water fish live a long time… most live more than 18 years and some longer than 50 years – if they don’t get caught. And they grow big – really big! See how big they get below:
- Lake trout*
Ave. length 24–36” long
Ave. weight 15–40 pounds
- Northern pike*
Ave. length 24–30” long
Ave. weight 3–10 pounds
- Lake whitefish*
Ave. length 17–22” long
Ave. weight 1–4 pounds
- Atlantic salmon
Ave. length 8–22 ” long
Ave. weight 8–12 pounds
- Lake trout*
- We stay far away from the huge muskies, who travel through Torch Lake between Lake Skegemog and Elk Lake to the south and and Clam Lake and Lake Bellaire to the north.
- Pollution from the air and from stormwater running off the land and into the lake is poisoning fish in Torch Lake.
*The Michigan Department of Community Health posts Fish Advisories informing people about how many fish they can eat safely and how often they can eat each fish species.
From my point of view, conserving trees along the shore gives me food to eat and keeping stormwater out of the lake helps me and other fish stay healthy.