Amid reports of die-offs, fish bite in Michigan is hot

Kalamazoo, Mich. —  Despite higher-than-normal temperatures this summer, anglers throughout the state are finding fish ripe for the catching. But also, there have been numerous reports of fish die-offs in the Lower Peninsula caused by water temperatures climbing into the 80s (F).

Anyone who finds dead fish should contact his or her local DNR field office, as the cause of death could be due to something other than the heat.

Here’s a rundown of what anglers are catching and how fish are faring during one of the hottest summers on record.

In southern Michigan, anglers are finding that the fishing has been fabulous.

“They’ve been catching a lot of skamania (steelhead), perch, and salmon,” Randy VanDam, owner of D & R Sports in Kalamazoo, told Michigan Outdoor News. “Bluegills are also biting, and my father-in-law told me that he’s seen multiple spawns.”

VanDam points to last winter’s poor ice-fishing conditions as the reason for those exceptional panfish catches this summer. Less fishing pressure in the winter means the fish are more likely to take an angler’s offering now.

Numerous die-offs of northern pike have been reported in the Lower Peninsula. Water temperatures approaching 90 degrees recently were recorded in the lower Shiawassee River, resulting in a small kill of pike. VanDam reported seeing dead northerns in the Grand River, with high temperatures mainly killing fish 25 inches or less.

“In Bruce’s Bayou, I was seeing one dead fish every 20 feet,” VanDam added.

Northern pike are a cool-water species highly susceptible to fluctuations in water temperature. Jay Wesley, the DNR’s  Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit coordinator, said water temperatures above the mid-70s spells danger for pike.

“If a river gets some groundwater input, they (northern pike) can find refuge,” Wesley said. “But shallower rivers like the Maple make it difficult for pike to get away from high water temperatures.”

Wesley said the Great Lakes fisheries have produced good chinook and steelhead fishing this summer. Interestingly, the fish are traveling into shallower water where anglers are catching them.

“We’ve had a mix of northern and eastern wind patterns this summer that have brought colder water, and moved fish closer to shore,” Wesley said. 

Smallmouth bass fishing has been good in southern Michigan, with anglers targeting water as shallow as 3 feet deep. Brown trout also have been biting in the coldest streams, while marginal streams like Augusta Creek, Nottawa Creek, and the Gun rivers offer little refuge for fish from scorching summer temperatures.

It’s been a boom for walleyes in Saginaw Bay this year, with anglers who are able to withstand the hot weather catching daily limits.

“Right now, the walleyes have moved out to waters 20 or more feet deep,” said Jim Krevinghaus, owner of Northwoods Wholesale Outlet in Pinconning.

Those fishing Lake Huron have had success targeting deep water for walleyes and lake trout.

There also have been some die-offs of northern pike and even trout in the northern Lower.

“Some fishermen reported finding dead brown trout in the Cedar River in Clare County,” said Jim Baker, the DNR’s  Southern Lake Huron Management Unit supervisor.

During exceptionally hot weather, Baker suggests targeting large inland lakes that enable fish to escape from high water temperatures by dropping down to the thermocline.

Not all fish stay at the thermocline until the water temperature drops.

“Largemouth bass are still coming into shallow waters to feed at night,” Baker said.

Anglers fishing for bluegills and other panfish should target areas where the water temperature is in the 68- to 70-degree range. 

Fishing success has been sizzling hot in the northern Lower. Compared to last summer, there might be fewer anglers hitting the water, but salmon and steelhead fishing is excellent.

“The fishing hasn’t been better than it is now,” said Terry Weber, co-owner of Advanced Tackle in Boyne Falls. “It’s hard to say why there are fewer people fishing, but it’s probably a combination of the heat, high cost of fuel, and poor economy.”

In the Upper Peninsula, trout have been migrating to northern tributary areas about three weeks earlier than usual.

“Like fish in the L.P., those north of the bridge are experiencing heat-related stress and staying in deep holes, making it harder for anglers to find them,” said Darren Kramer, a fisheries biologist for the DNR’s Northern Lake Michigan Management Unit. “Smallmouth bass are also holing up to escape hotter-than-normal water temperatures.

“In Big Bay de Noc, smallmouth can be found 20 to 30 feet down, so fishermen need to ignore the calendar charts and look for them in deeper holes.”

In the western Upper, brook and brown trout fishing has slowed. Water levels are significantly down, making access a challenge.

Randy Gustafson, owner of Northwoods Wilderness Outfitters in Iron Mountain, tells anglers they’ll need hiking boots to access waters like Bass Lake and Silver Lake, but the fishing is still worth it. 

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