Most salmon are not native to the Great Lakes, but their contribution to Michigan recreation over the past half-century cannot be ignored.

While the history of salmon stocking in the Great Lakes goes back more than 50 years, the Michigan Fishery Resources Management Council states that the current fishery exists today as a result of stock rehabilitation efforts that began in the 1970s.

“There are multiple reasons why we stock fish,” said Ed Esch, DNR fish production manager. “They may be stocked to restore ecosystem balance — like the example of Pacific salmon — to provide diverse fishing opportunities, or to rehabilitate declining fish populations and preserve the environment.” . To reintroduce extinct species.”

The Michigan DNR works with the Lake Michigan Commission, represented by states bordering the lake and the Chippewa-Ottawa Resource Authority, to collaboratively manage Lake Michigan’s fisheries.

The DNR manages its fish stocks, in part, by considering the ratio of predators to prey. By measuring the biomass of invasive herring species known as Alewives — common prey for salmon — the DNR can estimate how many juvenile salmon and trout will be introduced into Michigan waters.

“The after-effects of this specific action have been far broader than simply better control of the walleye population, resulting in a world-class salmon fishery that continues to provide catch rates to anglers that far exceed those seen in the Pacific Northwest,” the DNR Press reported. launch.

To raise these fish, conservationists collect Pacific salmon eggs from “feral broodstock” that return to dams on the Platte and Little Manistee rivers, according to the DNR.

Four species of salmon have been introduced to the Great Lakes: Chinook, Coho, Pink, and Atlantic.

Chinook or king salmon is native to the Pacific Ocean from California to Alaska. Michigan introduced Chinook to the Great Lakes in 1967. Weights typically range from 20 to 30 pounds.

Illustration provided/Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Chinook, salmon

Chinook are the largest salmon in the Pacific Ocean, earning them the nickname “King Salmon,” although they rarely grow to full size outside their natural range in northern California and Alaska, according to information from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Chinook were first stocked in the 1870s, but did not become established in the Great Lakes until Michigan planted them in 1967. With a growing larval population in the Great Lakes, conditions were right for this tenacious predator to flourish. Since then, these fish have become a dominant species in the Great Lakes salmon fishery, generating a multibillion-dollar sport fishery, according to the DNR.

Although Chinook are known to breed naturally in Michigan waters, the DNR still maintains a large stocking program.

Located on all the major lakes, the Michigan DNR recommends Lake Michigan for best fishing, and in various inland creeks along the lakes’ coast, including the Manistee, Pere Marquette, and St. Joseph rivers.

Chinook begin their upriver migration in late summer and can be reliably caught in many of these rivers as early as mid-August.

These fish prefer cooler water temperatures than coho salmon, and are typically caught in deeper waters in the Great Lakes, according to the DNR.

“Chinook are somewhat photo-sensitive and can be caught near the surface in low-light conditions but are often targeted in deeper water once the sun rises to the sky,” reads part of the DNR’s fishing guide.

Coho salmon are native to the Pacific coast of North America.  Michigan first began stocking cohos in 1966. The average weight of adults is 8 pounds.

Coho salmon are native to the Pacific coast of North America. Michigan first began stocking cohos in 1966. The average weight of adults is 8 pounds.

Illustration provided/Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Coho salmon

The DNR credits coho salmon with launching the Great Lakes salmon fishery.

They were among the first species to be successfully introduced into Michigan, in 1966, when juvenile salmon were introduced to the Platte River and Bear Creek.

The coho made its first spawning in the fall of the following year, and has since become a popular sport fish.

Coho typically migrate later than other salmon and travel longer distances, according to the DNR. Depending on the tributary, coho spawning can occur from early September to November.

Although natural reproduction has been documented, the fishery is maintained primarily through stocking, with the bulk of coho released into the Platte River, directly downstream from the state’s coho hatchery, according to a fish profile on

While it is possible to catch coho in Lake Michigan year-round, the best fishing on the lake’s east shore occurs in early spring and again in late summer and early fall, according to the DNR.

“The fish is caught by both surf anglers and anglers in Platte Bay as a stage fishery. “Although it is caught in a number of rivers, there is a notable late October fishery in the Manistee River and migratory fish are caught in the St. Joseph Late at Christmas,” part of the DNR hunting guide reads.

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