Native fish species bounce back

Fishing outlook on the lakes is good this year

By: Kevin Bunch | C&G Newspapers | Published May 13, 2015

 Anglers show off a muskie caught on the lakes.

Anglers show off a muskie caught on the lakes.

Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and David Kenyon


METRO DETROIT — Native fish like walleye, steelhead, lake trout and, to an extent, yellow perch populations are doing well, leading to a positive fishing outlook on the Great Lakes this year.

Todd Grischke, Lake Huron Basin coordinator with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said that while specific fishing is different across the north-south areas of the lake, walleye populations are booming to near record levels.

“The walleye fishing in Saginaw Bay is world-class,” Grischke said. “We’re just now going through a discussion to change regulations on walleye for the 2016 fishing season, to liberalize them because the population is so abundant.”

The reason for the boom following years of struggling is due to the demise of the invasive alewife population, which eat walleye fry. After that population crashed in 2003 — the alewife currently only exists in small remnant populations in the lake, Grischke said — walleye started recovering quickly.

The alewives’ demise also has been a boon to lake trout, which used to feed on the alewife. Alewives contain an enzyme that prevents the trout from converting the food to energy, Grischke said, leaving them weakened. Now that the alewife is gone, lake trout have moved over to gobies, bloaters and sculpin.

Yellow perch in Lake Huron have taken a hit due to the increase in the predatory walleye population, and Grischke said the DNR is still trying to tweak fishing regulations to stabilize those groups. Yellow perch tend to be around the shorelines of Saginaw Bay, while lake trout tend to be around northern ports like Oscoda, Alpena and Cheboygan.

Yellow perch and walleye are both doing well in Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie, DNR Fisheries Biologist Cleyo Harris said, as well as smallmouth bass and muskie.

“Both smallmouth bass and muskie fishing have been commented on as some of the best — Lake St. Clair is one of the best places to target them in North America,” Harris said. “We’re expecting another banner year.”

Lake Erie remains a strong fishing location for yellow perch and walleye, he added. He recommended Stony Point in Monroe County as a good fishing location for those species.

Grischke said these fish are year-round catches, with the exception of lake trout — the season on those runs from January until Sept. 30, he said. Specific rules and regulations for catching each species can be found at He added that the DNR also publishes a weekly fishing report on that website for the Great Lakes and other waterways.

Invasive species in the lakes are something the DNR is keeping an eye out for, but for the most part, the damage has been done.

“We’ve had so many over the years; we’ve had lamprey and alewife and zebra and quagga mussels, and they have changed our ecosystem on Lake Huron,” Grischke said. “Everything is readjusting to it, but on the horizon, we don’t have anything looming on that magnitude.”

Harris said other species like the round goby and grass carp have gotten into the lakes, but due to the amount of predators in the Great Lakes in general, their populations have not had a massive impact at this point.

“We are fortunate our systems are able to adapt,” Harris said. “One good benefit to having a large number of predators in these very productive waters is that it’s a very diverse fish community, and it helps protect a little bit against invasive species.”

Invasive vegetation is still an issue, and he recommended that boaters make sure they clean their vessels before entering another waterway.

He said that people going out on the waterways should keep an eye out for Asian carp, as the DNR wants to prevent them from getting into the lakes. Asian carp currently are in the Mississippi River.