Chinook salmon plentiful but small on Lake Michigan
Written by Grand Papids Press   
Friday, 22 February 2008 15:11

Chinook salmon were plentiful on Lake Michigan during the 2007 fishing season, but for the first time in 14 years, they were absent from the DNR's Master Angler list for fish species that were caught and kept.

The recently released 2007 list is a tally of fish entered in the program by anglers. Each of the 52 eligible species has to meet a minimum size requirement. Anglers can submit their catch to "Catch and Keep" or "Catch and Release" categories.

Lake Michigan chinook salmon have had a regular place on the list since at least 1994, the extent of the listings shown on the DNR's online database. They have to weigh at least 27 pounds to qualify for Master Angler status. State officials said Chinooks were plentiful last year, but they were smaller than previous years.

"It's what we would expect (their absence on the list)," said Jay Wesley, the fisheries supervisor for southwest Michigan. "The average size has decreased for the last five years. The catch rates have been phenomenal, but the fish are smaller, which indicates that there are a lot of Chinook out there, and they are hungry."

Two Chinook salmon did turn up on the 2007 Master Angler Catch and Release list. The fish have to meet the 41-inch minimum size requriement. Catch and Release entries do not require a certified weight. Anglers can enter them with just a length measurement and a photo. A 41-inch Chinook can vary considerably in weight, but prior year's listings show them generally to be 27 pounds or larger.

One of the two qualifying Chinook that were caught, recorded and released, was caught on the Boardman River. It was hooked by Randall Webb, of Fife Lake, who was spincasting a Mepps Syclops when he hooked the 41 1/2-inch salmon. Keri Anne Burke, of Lake Orion, hooked her 41 incher on the Pere Marquette River while fishing a Rapala on spinning gear.

Big Chinooks were commonplace in the late 1960s and 1970s, following the initiation of Michigan's salmon stocking program. The big predators were introduced to control the alewife population that was stinking up Lake Michigan's prized beaches and resort properties.

The population crashed in the late 1980s after bacterial kidney disease turned up in the Lake Michigan salmon population. Larger Chinooks turned up once again following the outbreak. Those that survived had several years of having plenty to eat.

"They grew like gangbusters," Wesley said. "And over time the population grew back up and the size of those fish have gone down."

That two big river-caught kings turned up on the Catch and Release list also would be expected, Wesley said.

Lake Michigan is primarily a catch-and-keep fishery and the majority of the fish they see are not the 27-pound fish. But in the fall when they run, Wesley said, there is a potential for catching bigger fish and those that fish rivers tend to release their salmon.

Other highlights from the 2007 Master Angler Program list include a new state record brown trout. Casey Richey, a Frankfort angler, landed a 36.81- pound, 43-inch brown while trolling a Rapala on Lake Michigan, off Benzie County.

Brown trout need to be 16 pounds to qualify for the list. Richey's fish was just over two pounds heavier than the prior state record, set in 2000, of 34.62 pounds.

Anglers planning to enter a fish on the list in 2008 may notice that the instructions have changed for entering.

"One change in the fishing guide is that it will say to be sure to include a photo with every entry," said DNR fisheries staffer, Barb Dilts. 'We need to have them for catch and keep entries too to make sure the species is properly identified. Some have said they caught a coho salmon and its not a coho. It's a small Chinook."

Chinook Salmon Count

Michigan Master Angler Catch and Keep List

Average/year: 108

High: 1996 (289)

Low: 2007 (0)

2007: 0

2006: 13

2005: 6

2004: 8

2003: 68

2002: 71

2001: 289

2000: 69

1999: 216

1998: 70

1997: 62

1996: 230

1995: 196

1994: 104

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