Restocking keeps fishing alive in Lake Michigan

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Scott Tanner along with his father, Tim Tanner, had a great day of fishing in 2009 on Lake Michigan out of Waukegan Harbor. The Round Lake residents were fishing on their 18-foot boat in about 60 feet of water straight east out of the harbor. | Suppiled P

From boat, shore, or stream. In the shadow of Chicago’s skyline or the serene shade of a willow tree. When catching and releasing or on the hunt for table fare.

Regardless of the setting, means, or motivation, Lake Michigan retains its standing as one of northwest Indiana’s premier fishing spots.

Fish of several stripes

Though Indiana’s share of Lake Michigan is the smallest (43 miles) among the lake’s four border states, and features highly developed and industrialized areas, anglers continue to dip their bait in the water for a diverse array of fish.

The third largest of the Great Lakes — and the world’s sixth largest lake — Lake Michigan features an eclectic array of freshwater fish, including: coho salmon, chinook salmon, steelhead trout, brown trout, lake trout, yellow perch, catfish, freshwater drum, lake whitefish, small-mouth bass, walleye and various sunfish.

“Just about every native species of fish native to this area can be found in Lake Michigan and that attracts people to the lake time and again,” said Capt. Mike Evano of Lakeside Charters.

Evano, who’s been fishing on Lake Michigan for 42 years, leads upward of 50 charters each year out of his spot at the East Chicago Marina. He calls Lake Michigan one of the nation’s top salmon fishing destinations.

Monitoring exotic species

Over the years, however, Evano has witnessed the presence of fewer large fish, a recognition he attributes to the presence of various exotic species that begin a chain reaction impacting the catch of everyday anglers. It’s a reality the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other agencies continue to monitor, eager to ensure that Lake Michigan remains an attractive fishing spot.

Over the last 30 years, Indiana DNR Lake Michigan fisheries biologist Brian Breidert said, researchers have studied the water daily to determine how the exotic species (chiefly, zebra mussels, round goby, and alewife) have filtered out the lower part of the food chain and impacted the ecosystem.

“These [exotic] species affect everything in the ecosystem from the forage fish to the top predators … and make the lake less productive than it’s been in the past,” Breidert said.

Restocking to the rescue

While the Indiana DNR and its partners continue their monitoring efforts, large-scale restocking programs aim to help the ecosystem and please anglers. In 2010 alone, the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife stocked Lake Michigan with nearly 233,000 chinook salmon, more than 243,000 coho salmon, over 305,000 steelhead trout, and 35,000-plus brown trout. As a result, Breidert assured, Lake Michigan remains a first-rate fishing destination.

Anglers seeking a shoreline spot often travel to the Michigan City pier, a dDevelopment within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the Hammond Marina, and the Port of Indiana, while popular public access sites on streams include Trail Creek, the Little Calumet River, and Salt Creek.

“You’re still talking about an exceptional fishing destination,” Breidert said. “From the number of species available to the plethora of opportunities for access, Lake Michigan holds its standing as a great fishing spot.”