Mixed results so far for salmon anglers
Written by Micihgan Outdoor News - Puckstop   
Wednesday, 10 August 2005 10:53
Anglers hungry for Great Lakes salmon action are sitting down to the seasonal feast. How they're faring depends on where they go, and whether they're after numbers or size.

On Lake Huron, things are about the same as last year - pretty bleak, with a few northern-lake bright spots. On Lake Michigan, action is booming, with good numbers of fish helping make up for smaller fish.

"The northern lake seems to be holding up again," said DNR fisheries biologist Dave Borgeson of early reports from Lake Huron, for which he is the agency's basin coordinator.

"This year may be similar to last year, but not nearly what it has been in the past," in either fish numbers or size, Borgeson said.

Last year, Lake Huron anglers hardly need reminding, featured fewer fish, at much smaller sizes - typically half of the 20 to 22 pounds of mature fish caught in good times.

Fishing was rated lousy in the southern lake, better in the north where ports such as Rogers City had catch rates closer to normal, but with far lighter fish coolers.

"We know that the prey base is down on Lake Huron and correspondingly, the size of chinook will be small again this year," Borgeson said. "Alewives have been down the past two years, and again this year they're at very low levels."

Biologists include harsh winter weather as a possible cause of the alewife collapse, adding that zebra and quagga mussels may be behind it, too, consuming nutrients in the lakes before alewives get a shot at them.

The northern lake's better fortunes may have two explanations. For some reason, alewives seem to be in better supply there.

"When you see alewives in Lake Huron, that's where you find them," Borgeson said.

And, chinook from throughout Lake Huron may be swimming over to Lake Michigan to feed, giving north-Huron anglers more of a shot at them as they migrate in both directions.

"How does that bode for the fish? I don't know that fishing success will be different from last year," Borgeson said.

Again this year, he said, "Folks are seeing a lot of empty stomachs," in the fish they catch. Sometimes that helps anglers, who don't need to match so closely the diets of fish. "They're looking for any food they can get a handle on," Borgeson said.

Lake Huron lake trout are getting more angler attention, he said. Like brown trout, they're willing to feed on a wider variety of foods, and so aren't declining as are chinook.

Will increased pressure affect trout? "We'll see. We have had a building lake trout population in the lake," Borgeson said.

Browns, in contrast, "haven't been doing that well." That, in contrast to salmon, is in numbers, not size.

Getting them to survive long enough to grow is the problem. Not only do planted fish face the predatory eyes of cormorants and other birds - they're just the right size for predator trout and salmon who can't find the alewives.

"In the past, we've had abundant prey to buffer the effect of predators," Borgeson said. "In the absence of prey, survival of our plants has been lower." To give fish a break, he said the DNR, angler groups, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have moved some Thunder Bay plants north to Rockport.

Browns that make it to adulthood, though, are growing big. "They're more inshore," he said, "feeding on gobies, so some fish are getting pretty large."

Chinook salmon fishing on Lake Michigan, meanwhile, has been "good to excellent," according to Cadillac district fisheries biologist Tom Rozich. And the fishing seems to be headed for even better times.

That's in numbers. In heft, "The average size of chinook salmon in Lake Michigan is down again," he said.

Evidence of that, Rozich said, is the lack of any Master Angler chinook entries so far this year. The minimum weight for that honor is 27 pounds, and fish of that size would normally be showing up in the catch.

What's behind the skinnier fish? "It's probably one of two things," Rozich told Michigan Outdoor News. "Many more chinook in the lake, or lack of forage. We don't have a good handle on it, but I suspect it's both."

Managers will decide whether to adjust their plants to better balance with food supplies. "We'll make a decision in September, hopefully prior to egg take," Rozich said. In late July, DNR Lake Michigan basin coordinator Jim Dexter was in Wisconsin, meeting with other states' managers to devise a lake-wide strategy.

Anglers are honing this year's fishing strategy, said Rozich, himself a Lake Michigan trolling regular. He said spoons were paying off as August approached, with blues and greens especially productive. "We run a variety of things, though, to find out what's best on any given day."
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