Recreational fishers also target lake whitefish in the Great Lakes

Munising Bay on Lake Superior has a unique population of lake whitefish that grows very slow.

Recreationally caught lake whitefish. Photo: Ron Kinnunen | Michigan Sea Grant

Recreationally caught lake whitefish. Photo: Ron Kinnunen | Michigan Sea Grant

Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension has for years been involved with research and extension outreach projects on Great Lakes lake whitefish in cooperation with the commercial fishing industry. Many associate lake whitefish as part of the Great Lakes commercial fishery but there also is a recreational fishery for this fish in certain areas. Some areas where recreational fishers target lake whitefish include Grand Traverse Bay and Green Bay on Lake Michigan and Munising Bay on Lake Superior.

Questions arise each year during ice fishing season regarding the presence of many small lake whitefish in Munising Bay. The presence of these small lake whitefish dates back to the 1950s when it was first documented. Thomas Edsall, who in 1960 was working for the U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, published a paper in the Transactions of the American Fisheries Society on the age and growth of lake whitefish in Munising Bay of Lake Superior.

Edsall found the growth in length and weight on Munising Bay lake whitefish was the slowest reported from Great Lakes waters. Munising Bay lake whitefish required nearly five years to reach a length of 10 inches and a full thirteen years to reach 15 inches. Slightly more than eight years were required to reach a weight of eight ounces and a little less than 14 years to reach one pound. Munising Bay lake whitefish matured at much shorter lengths but at greater age than reported for other Great Lakes whitefish populations.

No explanation for the slow growth rate of Munising Bay lake whitefish could be offered as a result of the study. During the years the study was conducted Munising Bay lake whitefish populations were much denser than other Lake Superior lake whitefish populations. They were also most abundant at greater depths (132-228 feet) than are ordinarily frequented by Great Lakes whitefish.

The greater success of fishing lake whitefish during the first ice can be attributed to their spawning habits. During the fall of the year, lake whitefish move from the deeper water to more shallow areas to spawn over rock, gravel, and sand at which time they are more concentrated. As the winter progresses the lake whitefish move back towards deeper water where they are more difficult to catch.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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