Anglers haul in near record chinook harvest
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Tuesday, 15 March 2005 10:12
MILWAUKEE -- Chinook continue their reign as the "kings" of Lake Michigan: anglers in 2004 hauled in chinook faster than ever before recorded

Anglers haul in near record chinook harvest
MILWAUKEE -- Chinook continue their reign as the "kings" of Lake Michigan: anglers in 2004 hauled in chinook faster than ever before recorded, and in greater numbers than any year during the past 20 but 1987, according to recently complied angler surveys.
Anglers caught 360,991 chinook in Lake Michigan in 2004, trailing only the 396,478 they reported catching in 1987, the year after DNR first started the angler surveys in their current form. The 2004 chinook harvest continues a third consecutive year of record-breaking chinook fishing, building on the 317,619 chinook caught in 2003 and 275,454 chinook hauled in 2002.
Combined, those three years bested the total 939,000 chinook anglers hauled in 1986, 1987 and 1988, the previous high-harvest period before disease outbreaks in the late 1980s took a dramatic toll on chinook populations and harvests.
"The fishing anglers have enjoyed the last three years has been nothing short of phenomenal, and barring anything unusual, it has the potential to be another solid year in 2005" says Brad Eggold, the DNR southern Lake Michigan fisheries supervisor who compiled the surveys.
Not only are anglers hauling in more fish, but they are catching the fish faster than ever, he says, but "we are seeing some of the highest harvest rates in the country for salmon."
Anglers in 2004 caught 19 fish for every 100 hours of fishing, the best catch rate over the nearly 20 years the present-day angler, or "creel" survey has been conducted. Anglers in 1987, the top harvest year for example, pulled in 16 fish for every 100 hours of fishing.
Those catch rates and total harvest numbers are even more impressive considering that anglers spent about half as much time fishing Lake Michigan in 2004 as they did in the late 1980s, 2.6 million days compared to nearly 5 million in 1988. In addition, Wisconsin and other states surrounding Lake Michigan are stocking a combined 25 percent fewer chinook today than in the late 1990s to keep the chinook population from exceeding the forage base.
The news for chinook anglers wasn't all rosy in 2004, however. Anglers reported catching fish that were smaller and in poorer condition than in past years, according to Paul Peeters, who is lead DNR Lake Michigan chinook biologist.
Those reports are consistent with what DNR biologists are seeing in their population surveys, and what they've seen while collecting eggs from spawning chinook in the fall. For example, the average weight of a 30-inch chinook in 1975 exceeded 10.5 pounds; in 2004, the average weight was close to 8.5 pounds, Peeters says.
The smaller size and poorer condition reflects a chinook population that's exceeding the forage base for a variety of reasons, Peeters says. The fish Wisconsin and other states stock are surviving longer and in greater numbers because of improvements at the hatchery that have reduced the incidence of disease, and changes in stocking practices, according to studies DNR has conducted since first starting to stock chinook in Lake Michigan in 1969 to control alewives. In addition, natural reproduction from fish that spawn in Michigan's cooler stream temperatures is increasing, as is the number of chinook straying into Lake Michigan from Lake Huron.
Great Lakes states are convening a public meeting April 9 in Benton Harbor, Mich., and DNR may also host a meeting here in Wisconsin, to discuss the chinook stocking situation.



Hot chinook fishing eases pressure on other species
The harvest totals for all Lake Michigan fish species, and for all salmonid species, were among the highest since the late 1980s. But the chinook haul was clearly fueling the good fishing. Coho harvests were up over the last six to seven years -- up 26,000 fish from 2003 to 76,944 -- but lake trout was at an all time low of 14,209, and brook, rainbow and brown trout were also lower than the longtime average.
"That's why they call chinook the king -- when it's accessible and people can go after it, they do," Eggold says.
Yellow perch fishing was also down, reflecting poor natural reproduction by yellow perch in Lake Michigan over the last decade and limits on sport fishing and a closure of commercial harvest to protect the remaining yellow perch. The fish caught in 2004 were again primarily from the 1998 year-class, the only strong year class, and those fish were "unbelievably large -- trophy fish up to 13 inches," Eggold says.

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