Record Breaking Harvest of Lake Michigan Chinook Salmon

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MADISON – Chinook, or king salmon, once again reigned in Lake Michigan’s waters, with anglers reeling in a record-breaking harvest of 431,000 salmon in 2007, according to angler (creel) surveys.

Anglers hauled in a record number of chinook in 2007 from Lake Michigan, like this beauty Rich Klett caught at Algoma. Contributed photo ©Kevin Naze

“It was really a phenomenal year once again,” says Brad Eggold, Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor for southern Lake Michigan. “Anglers were catching one chinook after another.”

Last year’s harvest is the highest number of chinook anglers reported catching since creel surveys began in 1969, making this not only a record year, but also the sixth straight year of outstanding chinook fishing. Anglers reporting catching 398,905 chinook in 2006, and 418,918 in 2005.

Fantastic fishing over the last six years is credited to collaborative efforts between DNR fisheries staff, sports groups, anglers and other agencies to closely monitor the fish populations in Lake Michigan and make adjustments to stocking levels when appropriate.

“Excellent management practices have helped to bring the Lake Michigan fishery to the level it’s at today,” says Eggold. “This year, there was not only a record harvest of chinook, but there were also increases in the harvests of brown, lake, and rainbow trout and coho salmon.”

A good combination of weather patterns, like spring warming rates and westerly winds, and the migration patterns of salmon and trout as they followed the forage (alewives) made them easily accessible to anglers, according to Eggold. In addition, when the fish are hungry, they’re more easily tricked into thinking lures are forage and more aggressive when it comes to biting.

The downside of this assertive biting behavior is that the fish are hungry and can’t track down the forage that they’re looking for.

“While the catch rates are nice and extremely high, and the chinook fairly healthy,” says Eggold, “they are smaller than they should be. It’s likely that there are just too many chinook in Lake Michigan for the forage base to support. What we’d like to see is fewer but larger fish caught.”

A 2006 lake-wide reduction in stocking to balance these factors and stop the downward trend of the conditions of fish may be noticed by anglers this year. Because of the salmon’s maturity schedule, there was little or no effect in 2007.

“I don’t anticipate there being a massive drop off in catch rates. However, I would be surprised if we caught as may as we did in 2007,” says Eggold. “And even though we may see slightly lower catch rates, we could also see anglers reeling in more trophy catches.”

A reduction in stocking has a history of being beneficial to anglers in terms of larger fish and plenty of them, according to Eggold.

“Every time stocking is reduced, the fishing gets better,” says Eggold. “I think it’s going to be a solid season with plenty of angling success.”

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.

Lake Michigan is the number one most frequently visited water in Wisconsin, according to a statewide mail survey in 2006-2007. 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.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Brad Eggold (414) 382-7921.

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