Salmon catch soared in 2006 but fish were smaller
Written by The Grand Rapids Press   
Sunday, 11 March 2007 07:54

Although anglers and fish biologists say the Lake Michigan salmon catch was terrific in 2006, they also will say the fish were smaller than in recent years. That contention is supported by the recently released Department of Natural Resources Master Angler list, where only 18 chinook salmon made the cut. Thirteen of the big kings turned up on the program's catch-and-keep list. Those fish must weigh a minimum of 27 pounds.

Another five made the catch-and-release list where 41 inches is the minimum length.

Three coho salmon made the 12-pound catch-and-keep minimum. None made the catch-and-release list.

The tallies for chinnook and coho are a far cry from 2001 when 289 chinook qualified and 1999 when 699 coho were entered. State biologists say the drop reflects the change in the Lake Michigan forage base in recent years.

"Numberswise, the Lake Michigan fishery was phenomenal in 2006. It's the best I've seen," Tom Rozich, the DNR's Cadillac district fisheries supervisor, said. Rozich tracks how many big salmon, steelhead and brown trout turn up at Lake Michigan ports and tributaries.

"Weightwise, they were all three to five pounds heavier than in 2005.

"But the number of Master Angler fish we get depends on the amount of forage we have out there."

And those numbers have been down in recent years. according to Rozich.

The Master Angler program was started in 1973 to recognize anglers who catch the largest fish in what is now 52 species categories. Anglers who enter fish on the catch-and-keep list must provide a certified weight. Those entries are eligible to become a state record.

Catch-and-release anglers need only to submit a photo and the measured length. Anglers in both categories are expected also to report where and how they caught their fish.

In 2006, the heaviest chinook recorded weighed 32.75 pounds. It was taken in Lake Michigan while trolling. Only two of the 13 listed topped 30 pounds. The state record is 43.06 pounds set in 1978.

The top catch-and-release chinook on the 2006 list measured 43 1/2 inches and was hooked by a fly fisherman on the Pere Marquette River.

The largest coho, of three listed, also came from the Pere Marquette River. It weighed 21 pounds and measured 36.5 inches. The big fish was landed by Terrance Borgess of Ada while fishing a stonefly imitation.

"That spike in the '01 catch of chinooks relates to a 1998 year class of alewives," Rozich said. "When there is a lot for them to eat, they achieve that magical 27-pound mark. They jumped on those and we got big, fat, sassy adults."

The same goes for the coho count in 1999, Rozich said. They hit the alewives hard and grew and grew.

"The peaks always coincide with a good year class of alewives," he said.

Rozich anticipates that anglers will see bigger fish this year. Lake Michigan produced another good year class of alewives in 2005 and 2006.

"It's going to be the same thing with steelhead and browns," he said.

Brown trout have to be larger than 16 pounds to make the catch-and-keep list. Twenty-two beat the minimum in 2006. Only one turned up on the catch- and-release list where it had to go 33 inches or larger. That fish was hooked in the Alpena River by a drift-fishing angler using a TriNuke Egg.

The biggest of the keepers ran 28.22 pounds and measured 37.6 inches. It was caught on Lake Huron, where two of the top five were caught.

The biggest brown caught on Lake Michigan was the No. 5 fish overall, caught off Benzie County by an angler trolling a Laser Hoochie with a Richey Fly.

This is the second consecutive year where anglers set no state records. It is also the fifth consecutive year where the number of catch-and-release entries exceeded catch and release.

"We established the catch-and-release category in 1992," Barb Dilts, the Master Angler program manager, said. "By 2002 it had caught up to and exceeded the number in catch and keep."

A total of 1,300 anglers entered fish in 2005, down slightly from 1,397 in 2005. There are 796 entries on the 2006 catch-and-release list and 504 on the catch-and-keep list.
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