Early season on Great Lakes?

Based on the mild weather conditions that we are having throughout the state, Great Lakes region anglers should be able to jump-start their fishing season and increase opportunities for success while fishing on these four freshwater lakes.

Lake Michigan

“Fishing conditions will be pushed earlier in the spring. Anglers should be able to get on the lake in March.” DNR Basin Coordinator for Lake Michigan, Jay Wesley told Michigan Outdoor News.

“The lake is warmer this year, which should help with prey fish survival and growth. I would expect chinook salmon catch rates to be higher this year along with coho salmon. Lake trout will be available in good numbers for those anglers wanting to target them. Overall, harvest and catch is predicted to be better than 2016.” Wesley said.

Based on the 2016 creel estimates, chinook salmon came in first place among the most popular fish caught by Lake Michigan anglers last year.

According to Wesley, “Of the 127,568 salmon and trout harvested in 2016, 34 percent were chinook salmon, 31 percent were lake trout, 17 percent were steelhead, 16 percent were coho, and only 1 percent were brown trout.

“In addition 198,405 yellow perch were harvested along with 4,353 walleye in 2016.”

The first anglers to wet a line in the spring can expect to find brown trout, steelhead and some coho salmon near harbors and in shallow water closer to shore in the waters of Lake Michigan.

Lake Huron

Fishing guide, Gene Kirvan who has owned Calypso Sportfishing Charters in Oscoda for the past 23 years anticipates an excellent fishing season for both the lower Au Sable River and Lake Huron.

“Considering this early spring thaw and how many steelhead wintered in the lower Au Sable and how many more steelies the spring run will bring, in we should be expecting excellent steelhead fishing. As long as the water temps don’t spike, this run could last several weeks,” Kirvan said.

“I would expect the off-shore fishery to be pretty good this summer. We experienced a strong smelt forage base last year and if there are no extreme changes in the lake, I see this continuing. A mixed bag of mainly lake trout with steelhead, Atlantic salmon, and walleye is the catch most will find.”

According to DNR Lake Huron Basin Coordinator Randy Claramunt, the diverse Lake Huron fishery appears to be making its comeback.

“The outlook for the 2017 fishing season for Lake Huron is excellent,” he said. “In Saginaw Bay, yellow perch harvest appears to be on the rise and lakewide the smallmouth bass fishery is strong.”

Last year’s fishing season proved to be a successful one for many anglers fishing on the sunrise side of the state.

“At all of the main fishing ports, over 30,000 lake trout and over 115,000 walleye were harvested in 2016, meeting DNR expectations. The steelhead fishery almost doubled from 2015 to 2016 with Harbor Beach and Port Sanilac fishing ports leading the way,” Claramunt said.

“It was also the year of the pinks (salmon) with almost 8,000 pinks harvested and the ports of Alpena, Les Cheneaux Islands and Detour reported the greatest catches,” he added. “Our investment in the Atlantic Salmon program produced the third highest lakewide harvest ever with over 1,500 in the catch. Coho salmon were also in the Lake Huron catch as 13 different ports reporting coho harvest in 2016.”

Claramunt said the DNR is in the process of creating a “Lake Huron Road Map,” which will detail the fishing opportunities offered to anglers throughout Lake Huron.

Lake Erie

Anglers fishing for perch and walleye on Lake Erie can expect to find excellent opportunities to fill their limit this fishing season according to DNR Basin Coordinator, Jim Francis.

“The catch on Lake Erie is dominated by two species: yellow perch and walleye,” Francis said. “In 2016, half of the fishing effort in Michigan waters of Lake Erie (250,000 angler hours) were targeted at yellow perch and the harvest was 1.2 million perch. The catch was made up of mostly the 2013 and 2014 year classes (ages 2 and 3 fish), and the good year classes recorded in 2015 and 2016 will continue to support a quality fishery.

Francis said the outlook for walleye fishing is also very good.

“There were twice as many walleyes released last year as harvested,” he said. “This is because of a good year class in 2014 and a very strong year class in 2015. These fish contributed to the catch, but because they were not large enough to exceed the minimum size limit of 15 inches, they were released. But that bodes well for the future as those fish grow and begin to contribute to the fishery.”

Francis remains optimistic for both of these popular species. “The yellow perch fishing last year on Lake Erie set records for catch rates and harvest and we anticipate the good fishing will continue, supported by four good year-classes.

The forecast for walleye on Lake Erie looks good as the 2014 and 2015 year classes grow into the fishery.”

Francis offers some advice for anglers targeting walleyes on Lake Erie. “Walleye anglers generally hit Lake Erie as soon as the ice is off the water. But walleye fishing generally gets more reliable from mid-May through July.”

Lake Superior

According to DNR Basin Coordinator for Lake Superior, Phillip Schneeberger, hishing Lake Superior, like most places, is highly dependent on the weather and is therefore hard to predict. “However, in general, fishing for lean lake trout, the bread and butter species in Lake Superior, is fairly reliable throughout the open-water season out of Black River Harbor, Silver City, Ontonagon, Bete Gris, Traverse Bay, Keweenaw Bay, Marquette, Au Train, Munising, and Grand Marais,” he said.

According to recent DNR creel estimates, the top three fish caught on Superior in 2016 were; 29,215 lean lake trout, 8,995 coho salmon and 6,666 lake whitefish.

Superior, the largest body of freshwater in the world, offers anglers numerous fishing opportunities throughout the year.

“Salmon (chinook and coho) and lake whitefish are other prominent species caught more seasonally during spring and fall out of the same ports listed for lake trout,” Schneeberger said. “Brown trout, rainbow trout and siscowet lake trout are favorite targets as well. Splake enthusiasts are most successful out of Copper Harbor and Munising, especially during spring, fall, and through the ice.”

The 2017 stocking schedule for Superior calls for 12,000 brown trout, 70,000 rainbow yearlings, 50,000 rainbow fall fingerlings, and 70,000 splake yearlings.

“Lake Superior offers unique and special fishing opportunities for anglers who are up to the challenge and enjoy the unparalleled beauty of this magnificent resource,” Schneeberger added. “The lake supports a variety of species that thrive in the clean, clear, and cold waters. Almost all of the fish anglers seek are native or naturalized populations that are self-sustaining through natural reproduction.”

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