MADISON – High fuel prices in summer 2008 and bad fishing weather contributed to across-the-board decreases in the number of trout and salmon caught by Lake Michigan anglers in 2008, state fisheries official say.
Lower forage base levels may have contributed as well to the lower harvests, and for chinook, a lake-wide reduction in stocking levels since 2006 also may have shown up in anglers’ creels in 2008, they say.
Anglers spent a total of 2.5 million hours fishing Lake Michigan and tributaries, down from 3.1 million hours the previous year. While angler effort has been slowly declining in Lake Michigan since the 1980s, anglers spent less time on the water in 2009 than in any other year than 2000, angler surveys show.
“The weather was off for fishing, and with gas at $4 a gallon, more anglers decided they didn’t want to go out and look for the fish,” says Brad Eggold, Southern Lake Michigan fisheries supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources.
Unusual weather patterns kept the chinook farther away from shore and scattered throughout the water column, and the coho fishing also didn’t follow its normal pattern of starting off strong in spring in Kenosha area waters and slowly moving northward, Eggold says.
“In the past, when chinook and coho numbers dropped, boaters went out 12 miles off shore to locate and catch steelhead,” he says. “This didn’t happen this year, most likely due to gas prices and consequently, the catch for steelhead are low as are the overall salmon and trout catch.”
Anglers who fish Lake Michigan tributaries were the only category of anglers tracked in the survey that actually spent more time chasing their quarry in 2008 than the previous year.
Wisconsin anglers pulled in more than 650,000 fish of all species from Lake Michigan, with decreases in harvests of brook, rainbow, brown and lake trout, as well as yellow perch, and chinook and coho salmon. Lake Michigan anglers harvested 256,796 chinook in 2008; that places it in the top 10 years of harvest but down from the phenomenal 431,143 the previous year. The fish were larger, a good sign that the reduction in chinook stocking instituted by Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan in 2006 is working to bring chinook numbers closer in line with the forage base to sustain good fishing into the future, Eggold says.
“Chinook stocking was reduced lake-wide by 25 percent in 2006 to balance the amount of forage per numbers of fish,” says Eggold. “Because of the salmon’s maturity schedule, we saw little or no effect on harvest in 2007. The fewer, but larger fish in 2008 could be a sign that the reductions are doing what we needed them to do.”
What can anglers expect for Lake Michigan fishing in 2009?
“Gas prices are half the price they were a year ago and provided the weather cooperates and prey base stays adequate, anglers should continue to see solid numbers of chinook and a bounce back in coho,” says Eggold.
Additional information on chinook fishing can be found on the DNR Web site, including a chart showing overall trout and salmon harvests, and harvests broken down by species, in addition to more information on chinook salmon; the best seasons for Lake Michigan year-round chinook shore fishing.
More information on Lake Michigan fisheries is also available on the DNR Web site. The Lake Michigan Hotline at (414) 382-7920 features up-to-date fishing reports and conditions.