MI: Salmon season is solid on Michigan

DNR announces plans to reduce stocks in Huron

Lansing – While anglers fishing one Great Lake caught outstanding numbers of salmon, those fishing another made only average catches.

Lake Michigan produced plenty of coho salmon, particularly early in the season.

"There were nice coho fisheries in the southern part of the state, particularly New Buffalo and St. Joseph," Jay Wesley, the DNR's fisheries manager for southern Lake Michigan, told Michigan Outdoor News. "The coho then moved up and spread throughout the lake."

"Chinook salmon fishing started slowly on the lake to the west, but quickly picked up steam as the summer progressed.

"Many anglers and charter boat captains told me the chinook fishing (on Lake Michigan) was the best they'd seen in 15 years," Wesley said. "In just about every port the fishing was up, except at Bay de Noc in the Upper Peninsula."

While those on Lake Michigan experienced a salmon bonanza, the same could not be said for anglers on Lake Huron. North of Rogers City, anglers found good chinook fishing throughout the season. However, salmon fishing continued to decline in the southern part of the lake.

"Late March to May was when we saw some salmon congregating in southern Lake Huron," said Jim Baker, the fisheries manager for southern Lake Huron. "Anglers were catching chinook, coho, pink, and even an occasional Atlantic. After that, the fishing in southern Lake Huron was very poor."

The DNR believes the decline in salmon-fishing success on Lake Huron can be attributed to divergent numbers of forage fish found throughout the lake.

"In 2005, the alewife population crashed in southern Lake Huron," said Todd Grischke, the northern Lake Huron fisheries manager. "As a result, we're not finding many chinook south of Rogers City during the height of fishing season."

Grischke attributes the lack of alewife to an increase in exotic species like zebra mussels and quagga mussels. The mussels destroy alewife habitat. Once the alewife leave, chinook salmon go with them.

Some anglers believe the way to improve chinook fishing in southern Lake Huron is to stock ample numbers of alewives. Grischke said the solution isn't that simple.

"We could never supply enough forage fish to support the predator fish populations," he said. "The number of forage fish produced naturally that support salmon are in the millions of pounds."

Due to the sharp decline in the forage base in Lake Huron, the DNR will reduce chinook salmon stocking in the lake by more than half in 2012, compared with 2011 levels. The DNR plans to stock 693,000 spring chinook fingerlings in 2012, down from almost 1.5 million in 2011.

"We're cutting back on stocking because we're just not getting a good return on our stocked fish," Grischke said. "Steelhead, which eat many other things besides alewife, have been plentiful in southern Lake Huron, so anglers can target them."

Michigan will continue to stock chinook salmon at Nunns Creek, the Cheboygan River, and the Swan River in the northern Lake Huron watershed. All three stocking sites are within the boundaries of the 2000 consent decree with tribes covered in the 1836 Treaty of Washington. The DNR consulted with the Chippewa-Ottawa Resource Authority, the Lake Huron Citizen Fishery Advisory Committee, Ontario fisheries officials, and held three public meetings in the Lake Huron basin before reaching its decision.

Reduced chinook salmon stocking is likely to continue into the immediate future.

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