Hooked on big fish
Written by Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter   
Thursday, 05 October 2006 17:24

Richard Daggett, who lives just outside of Hannibal, Mo., in what he calls "Mark Twain" country, joined five other family members for their yearly trek to Manitowoc in pursuit of salmon.

The Chinook salmon they were catching on the Manitowoc River on Wednesday were certainly unlike the bass and crappies they are accustomed to catching in the Mississippi River. Daggett took stock of the success of his salmon fishing this season as he gazed over the river.

"We've have been catching mostly 20-pounders," he said. "You come up here and catch these fish and they are more fun to catch; they put up more of a fight."

Daggett and other anglers have reported catching larger Chinook salmon this year, but it's too early to tell whether the fish are getting larger overall, said Steve Surendonk, regional DNR fisheries technician.

Fish biologists hope a strong breeding season for alewives, a major food source for salmon, combined with cuts in the number of Chinook stocked in Lake Michigan this spring will continue to result in larger fish.

Last year, anglers reported catching record numbers of Chinook, but the fish were smaller than average. Fisheries officials believed that smaller fish sizes were due to too many Chinook in Lake Michigan for the forage base to support. This season, however, anglers say they are catching larger fish, in numbers comparable to last year.

Different explanation

The 25 percent cut in Chinook stocking in Lake Michigan, beginning this spring, is not the reason anglers report catching larger fish, Surendonk said. The fish stocked this year would be just a few inches long and they don't compete with larger Chinook for the same forage.

A more likely cause is a strong breeding season for alewives, the "meat and potatoes" of Chinook salmon, according to Steve Hogler, regional DNR fisheries biologist.

"Certainly, we are cautiously optimistic that the alewife population is steadying and not in decline," Hogler said. "I wouldn't expect any (further) stocking cuts for salmon, unless something unusual were to happen."

According to the DNR, the fish that anglers are catching this year are primarily those stocked in 2003 and 2004. Those fish were regarded as a little weak, meaning fewer fish hatched and survived through their first winter. With fewer predator fish and more prey fish as a result of the larger alewife class in the summer of 2005, Chinook appear to be larger.

Throughout the fishing season, creel clerks measure and weigh samples of the fish anglers catch, and crews collecting eggs at spawning weirs weigh and measure thousands of Chinook each fall, according to the DNR.

In 2005, anglers in Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan caught more Chinook than ever before – nearly 419,000 fish – but the average weight of Chinook was 8.6 pounds in 2005, down from 9.8 pounds in 1995 and 13 pounds in 2001.
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