Lake Michigan’s charter-fishing catch rate slips in 2013

State fisheries officials predict salmon will be hungry and bite lures more readily with fewer alewives in Lake Michigan.  Photo: Howard Meyerson

State fisheries officials predict salmon will be hungry and bite lures more readily with fewer alewives in Lake Michigan. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Lake Michigan anglers complained in 2013 about catching fewer though bigger chinook salmon than prior years, but charter fishing captains had a pretty good year. They logged 11,875 fishing trips, the second highest number since 2009; the highest being 2012 when they reported 12,236 charter trips.

Those 2013 findings were released in May by the Michigan DNR and can be found in the latest report about charter fishing catch and effort on the agency website.

Last year’s catch went down following several years of way above-average catch-rates,” notes Dan O’Keefe, Michigan Sea Grant southwest district educator. “But the fish were bigger – and that helped the number of trips that were taken.”

Charter captains are required to report their catches each year, along with the number of hours they spend fishing, or what is called “charter effort.” Lake Michigan fishing charters targeted, caught and kept 35,218 chinook salmon in 2013. They released 904 according to the report. That translated to a catch-rate of .132 chinook salmon per hour fishing and 3.184 chinooks per excursion.

In 2012 they targeted, caught and kept 87,395 chinooks and released 733 resulting in a catch rate of .320 chinooks per hour fishing and 7.4 chinooks per excursion.

That decline, O’Keefe says, may seem like a problem to most anglers, but it’s one “with a silver lining.”  The 2013 chinooks were much bigger and well fed, an expected development when salmon number decline to “more sustainable levels.”

Lake Michigan fisheries managers have been worried about declining alewife populations in Lake Michigan. Chinook salmon eat primarily alewives. Chinook numbers were growing due to increasing natural reproduction on northern Lake Michigan tributaries. In an attempt to hold the line and better balance the lake’s predator-prey ratio, Lake Michigan’s bordering states cut salmon stocking by 50 percent in 2013 with the intent of conserving alewife populations by reducing the number of predators.

“The results of the cut won’t be seen until next year,” explains Jay Wesley, the DNR’s southern Lake Michigan fisheries supervisor. “There will be more one-year-olds caught this year and they might be keeper size, but they won’t be what charters are targeting.

“We have mostly two and three-year-olds out there this year, a typical spread. People catch primarily threes and twos; fours are the least amount.”

Catch-rates are expected to improve this summer. Wesley thinks chinook salmon will be hungry and more likely to hit lures trolled by anglers.

Lake Michigan fishing charters also caught a variety of other fish in 2013. Charter captains reported catching and keeping 14,995 coho salmon, 8,592 rainbow trout, 530 brown trout, 21,541 lake trout, 8,316 yellow perch, 877 walleye, and 36 smallmouth bass.

The lake fishery was more diverse than prior years, according to O’Keefe, and is more likely to be “sustainable” than when it was primarily a “chinook-heavy” salmon fishery. The 2013 Lake Michigan charter fishery, he added, resulted in generating a $15.3 million local economic impact.


© 2014 Howard Meyerson

This story appears in Michigan Outdoor News

About Howard Meyerson

After more than 30 years in the outdoor writing business, you would think I'd know better.
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2 Responses to Lake Michigan’s charter-fishing catch rate slips in 2013

  1. mfs686 says:

    I hear people complaing about low catch rates on the other websites all the time. They seem to forget one thing. The alternative is a Chinook catch rate like in Lake Huron….Non-Existent. I’m glad the DNR caught this in time and are taking steps to prevent another crash, though I think it is inevitable.


    • mfs686: I agree about the DNR stepping in. It was a good move and we will see how this plays out. The interesting thing about the crash in Lake Huron is that it has been followed by a boom fishery comprised of steelhead,lake trout and walleye.


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