Mixed results so far for salmon anglers

By Steve Griffin Field Editor

Midland, Mich. — Anglers hungry for Great Lakes salmon action
are sitting down to the seasonal feast. How they’re faring depends
on where they go, and whether they’re after numbers or size.

On Lake Huron, things are about the same as last year – pretty
bleak, with a few northern-lake bright spots. On Lake Michigan,
action is booming, with good numbers of fish helping make up for
smaller fish.

“The northern lake seems to be holding up again,” said DNR
fisheries biologist Dave Borgeson of early reports from Lake Huron,
for which he is the agency’s basin coordinator.

“This year may be similar to last year, but not nearly what it
has been in the past,” in either fish numbers or size, Borgeson
said.

Last year, Lake Huron anglers hardly need reminding, featured
fewer fish, at much smaller sizes – typically half of the 20 to 22
pounds of mature fish caught in good times.

Fishing was rated lousy in the southern lake, better in the
north where ports such as Rogers City had catch rates closer to
normal, but with far lighter fish coolers.

“We know that the prey base is down on Lake Huron and
correspondingly, the size of chinook will be small again this
year,” Borgeson said. “Alewives have been down the past two years,
and again this year they’re at very low levels.”

Biologists include harsh winter weather as a possible cause of
the alewife collapse, adding that zebra and quagga mussels may be
behind it, too, consuming nutrients in the lakes before alewives
get a shot at them.

The northern lake’s better fortunes may have two explanations.
For some reason, alewives seem to be in better supply there.

“When you see alewives in Lake Huron, that’s where you find
them,” Borgeson said.

And, chinook from throughout Lake Huron may be swimming over to
Lake Michigan to feed, giving north-Huron anglers more of a shot at
them as they migrate in both directions.

“How does that bode for the fish? I don’t know that fishing
success will be different from last year,” Borgeson said.

Again this year, he said, “Folks are seeing a lot of empty
stomachs,” in the fish they catch. Sometimes that helps anglers,
who don’t need to match so closely the diets of fish. “They’re
looking for any food they can get a handle on,” Borgeson said.

Lake Huron lake trout are getting more angler attention, he
said. Like brown trout, they’re willing to feed on a wider variety
of foods, and so aren’t declining as are chinook.

Will increased pressure affect trout? “We’ll see. We have had a
building lake trout population in the lake,” Borgeson said.

Browns, in contrast, “haven’t been doing that well.” That, in
contrast to salmon, is in numbers, not size.

Getting them to survive long enough to grow is the problem. Not
only do planted fish face the predatory eyes of cormorants and
other birds – they’re just the right size for predator trout and
salmon who can’t find the alewives.

“In the past, we’ve had abundant prey to buffer the effect of
predators,” Borgeson said. “In the absence of prey, survival of our
plants has been lower.” To give fish a break, he said the DNR,
angler groups, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have moved
some Thunder Bay plants north to Rockport.

Browns that make it to adulthood, though, are growing big.
“They’re more inshore,” he said, “feeding on gobies, so some fish
are getting pretty large.”

Chinook salmon fishing on Lake Michigan, meanwhile, has been
“good to excellent,” according to Cadillac district fisheries
biologist Tom Rozich. And the fishing seems to be headed for even
better times.

That’s in numbers. In heft, “The average size of chinook salmon
in Lake Michigan is down again,” he said.

Evidence of that, Rozich said, is the lack of any Master Angler
chinook entries so far this year. The minimum weight for that honor
is 27 pounds, and fish of that size would normally be showing up in
the catch.

What’s behind the skinnier fish? “It’s probably one of two
things,” Rozich told Michigan Outdoor News. “Many more chinook in
the lake, or lack of forage. We don’t have a good handle on it, but
I suspect it’s both.”

Managers will decide whether to adjust their plants to better
balance with food supplies. “We’ll make a decision in September,
hopefully prior to egg take,” Rozich said. In late July, DNR Lake
Michigan basin coordinator Jim Dexter was in Wisconsin, meeting
with other states’ managers to devise a lake-wide strategy.

Anglers are honing this year’s fishing strategy, said Rozich,
himself a Lake Michigan trolling regular. He said spoons were
paying off as August approached, with blues and greens especially
productive. “We run a variety of things, though, to find out what’s
best on any given day.”

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