Lake Michigan fishing season begins with a ‘bang’ in 2012

Milwaukee — If anglers have Lake Michigan on their fishing menu this summer, be prepared to take part in a feast.

That’s the word from the man who should know, Brad Eggold, Lake Michigan DNR fisheries supervisor. His advice is to take advantage as quickly as possible.

“Right now they’re recording good numbers and size (of chinook salmon) in Door and Kewaunee counties,” Eggold said. “They started out with a bang this year and there’s a good forage base up there.”

He said the bite is well ahead of last year when early fishing wasn’t very good for most species.

Eggold expects cohos, steelhead and browns to offer similar catches to anglers up and down the big lake’s Wisconsin coast.

He was cautious in offering an outlook for coho because of the record harvest over the last two years. He said that steelhead did well last year and he has no doubts that fishery would again be successful.

Browns always are a little more iffy because they are not “as easily catchable and have patterns that fluctuate.”

Several factors will influence this season’s outcome as they usually do: wind, weather and forage. Fishing should be good if prevailing west winds push warm surface waters offshore –  that allows colder water to well up and bring fish closer to shore. He said calm weather would allow more boats onto the lake, but bad weather would stir up the thermocline and scatter fish that had been concentrated within certain temperature levels.

Finally, he said, anglers have to search for the smaller species that make up the forage base. Those schools of fish aren’t stationary, but that’s where salmon and trout will be found.

“For some reason people don’t think fish can swim from Chicago to Sturgeon Bay,” Eggold said, alluding to complaints about poor fishing from anglers who don’t change with conditions that move fish from one location to another.

At the same time, the future of this $7 billion fishery is clouded by factors that no biologist can control. The big question is the future of the alewife, the main forage for all sport fish in the lake, but especially so for the chinooks. A study of prey fish last year reported that “adult alewife abundance has remained low from 2004 to 2011, compared to previous years.”

Already declines in alewives have forced a committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to recommend four options, any one of which will result in reduced stocking next year. The recommendations are to cut back

30 to 50 percent on chinook fingerlings which, last year, amounted to 1.2 million fish.

The proposals also include a 10 percent reduction in the 5- to 7-inch yearlings of the other species: 1.3 million brown trout; 450,000 coho; 1.2 million lakers; and 438,000 steelhead. A study by Michigan State University said the current stocking levels could overwhelm the forage base and “have a good chance of leading to the collapse of the alewife … .”

And, of course, no one wants to repeat the 2003-04 experience of Lake Huron when the salmon fishery crashed – and has yet to recover – the result of a precipitous alewife decline caused by competition for the same plankton food supply with a massive invasion of quagga and zebra mussels.

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