Good fishing season ahead for smallmouth in Lake Michigan

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Seeking the smallmouth: The Indiana Department of Natural Resources reports that fishermen — including Chris Moseley, who runs American Guide Service, a charter boat service out of Portage Marina — are finding Indiana’s best smallmouth fishing is along the shores because of the rocky structures in the water and the protected nature of the harbors. | Photo by Amy Dickens

Fishing for smallmouth is a big hit in Lake Michigan this time of year.

Brian Breidert, Lake Michigan fisheries biologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said peak season for smallmouth bass and other sunfish is typically June to September.

“So far things are good,” he said. “It’s a little later than normal, but we’re going to have a good overall season this year.

“Water temperatures have finally been warming up. Once they hit the low 60s near shore, that’s optimum for smallmouth.”

May to June is spawning season.

The fish population is stable, despite predators like gobies feeding on the eggs and birds feeding on the smaller bass when they hatch.

Egg predators seem to impact the population, but also provide great forage food for adult fish, Breidert said. Goby, in turn, serve as ideal bait for larger fish.

Where to find them

He said some of Indiana’s best smallmouth fishing is along the shores because of the rocky structures in the water and the protected nature of the harbors. The sandy shallow areas are good for spawning season, while the rocky areas host fish the rest of the year.

“The Great Lakes are a bold wealth of fishing,” Breidert said.

The East Chicago Marina, Portage Lakefront Park, and Hammond Marina are all excellent places for dropping a line or two.

“Within the Indiana waters of Lake Michigan, the smallmouth population is doing quite well,” Breidert said. “People have been out successfully catching 16- to 18-inch smallmouth.”

About 90 percent of smallmouth fishing in Lake Michigan is catch and release, Breidert said.

“On the lake, for a lot of guys, it’s about catching rather than eating,” he said. But it is an individual choice, with fish part of a healthy diet.

Smallmouth don’t typically make it to the kitchen compared to the salmon and perch also in the water.

They are a favorite for fishing, though.

That leaves an opportunity for anglers to reel in bigger catches.

“Larger fish are being caught, and the majority that are released are four to six pounds in trial samplings,” Breidert said.

Smallmouth are one of the native species to the area.

“They are found near the shore, so they provide a great opportunity to people shore-fishing or in a boat,” Breidert said. “It’s fantastic angling for young angling.”

Get licensed

There are many places to get started for new anglers, and plenty of resources for advice.

The minimum size for harvest is 14 inches. There is a limit of three smallmouth.

“It’s a great opportunity for residents to get out, take their families, and try something new,” Breidert said.

Fishing and boating (if necessary) require proper licenses. An annual resident fishing license is $17, and a one-day license is $9. Seniors have special rates. Trout and salmon require extra stamps.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources website offers location, regulation and licensing information at: http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/