Using the Fisheries Division's Master Angler database to improve your fishing success

In 1973 the Master Angler Program was started to recognize anglers who caught abnormally large fish. Originally, Master Angler patches were only given for the capture of 19 species of fish. Today that has increased to 50 species of fish, ranging from the commonly caught walleye to the rarer longnose gar. For each species there are "Catch-and-Release" and "Catch-and-Keep" categories, with minimum requirements that need to be met to consider someone's catch a Master Angler fish. The DNR Fisheries Division maintains an on-line database that contains information on all the Master Angler fish reported; this database can be a valuable source of information for Michigan anglers, allowing them to investigate where big fish are caught in the state, the times of year during which catch rates are highest, and techniques useful in pursuing trophy fish.

An example...yellow perch
graph of Master Angler yellow perch awards, 1994-2013The yellow perch (Perca flavescens) is one of the most popular sport fish in Michigan, and one of the original species included in the Master Angler award program. For an angler to receive a Master Angler patch for a yellow perch catch in 2015, the fish must be at least 14" long ("Catch-and-Release" and "Catch-and-Keep categories). Over the past 20 years (1994-2013), 656 Master Angler patches have been awarded to Michigan yellow perch anglers. The average number of entries each year is 33 fish, with a maximum of 49 entries in 1995 and 14 fish in 2004. Catches have ranged up to 18" in length, and from 1.5 to 3.5 pounds in weight (please note, starting in 2015 weight is no longer a required criteria for Master Angler fish).

Where to go…
Master angler yellow perch have been caught in 61 of Michigan's 83 counties. Of all the Master Angler perch caught, 58% were caught in inland lakes while 42% were caught in the Great Lakes. Inland, Lake Gogebic in Gogebic County and Hubbard Lake in Alcona County far outpace other systems in terms of production of Master Angler perch. These two bodies of water accounted for roughly 90 Master Angler perch each over the period 1994-2013. The next most productive system - Long Lake in Grand Traverse County - only produced 14 Master Angler catches over the same period.

In Great Lakes waters, Lake Michigan (including By and Little bays de Noc and Grand Traverse Bay) produced more than 100 Master Angler yellow perch during 1994-2013. The St. Clair system and Lake Huron each produced around 70 fish and Lake Erie produced about 20 Master Angler perch. Lesser numbers of entries came from other areas (e.g., Great Lakes connecting waters like the St. Mary's River and Detroit River).

When to fish…
The best months to catch Master Angler yellow perch are February and March. The fewest Master Angler entries were recorded in December, likely due to the significant reduction in fishing effort typical for this month (the ice is not usually thick enough to fish on). The best time of day to catch big perch is in the morning, between 9 and 11 a.m.

How to catch them…
The most common methods employed in catching large yellow perch are ice fishing (inland lakes) or stillfishing (Great Lakes). As you might expect, live minnows are far and away the most common bait used to catch Master Angler perch, with wigglers (mayfly larvae) a distant second. Less than 14% of Master Angler perch were caught using artificial lures, and only one person in the last 20 years has caught a Master Angler yellow perch by fly-fishing.

Importance of the Master Angler program…
As this example demonstrates, the Master Angler database can be a useful starting point for anglers hoping to gain insights into catching large yellow perch in Michigan. Information collected over the past 20 years indicates specific inland lakes (e.g., Lake Gogebic and Hubbard Lake) consistently produce catches of large yellow perch. For those anglers hoping to take home a Master Angler yellow perch, ice fishing on inland lakes in February and March, between 9 and 11 a.m., and using a live minnow as bait is the highest percentage strategy.

graph of fishing methods used to catch Master Angler sized perch

graph of bait types used to catch Master Angler sized perch

In addition to the general summaries presented here, the Master Angler database can be used to investigate more specific questions; for example, good yellow perch waters in specific counties, or detailed information on specific lure types that anglers are using to catch big perch. The Master Angler database is a comprehensive collection of information on many species of fish that has proven to be interesting and educational for anglers and biologists alike. The Master Angler database can be found on the DNR's website at

Written by Dillon Ross, seasonal state worker at Charlevoix Fisheries Research Station.