One of the most prized game fish in the world, Atlantic salmon are heralded for their leaping and fighting ability. Although they were once native to Lake Ontario, they were extirpated from the Great Lakes before 1900. Named for their home range in the North Atlantic Ocean, these fish have been transplanted into the upper Great Lakes and a world-class fishery for them has developed in the St. Marys River.
Though planted in the Boyne and the Au Sable Rivers as early at 1972, Atlantics did not flourish. The state has maintained a fishery in Torch Lake in Antrim County with stocked fish and some natural reproduction in the tributaries has been noted. Anglers use typical Pacific salmon trolling techniques, but fly fishermen have had some success fishing for them at the mouths of the tributaries as they stage for spawning.
The primary Atlantic salmon fishery in Michigan is in the St. Marys River. Atlantics begin their spawning runs in the mid summer. Anglers troll for them using downriggers, though some anglers drift in current below the rapids, casting with streamers or soft-plastic jerk baits. On occasion, the fish can be seen herding baitfish to the surface and anglers can often connect by casting a minnow imitator into the fracas.
The fishery in the St. Marys River rapids is top-notch, by far the best recreational Atlantic salmon fishery west of the East Coast. It is maintained by an annual stocking program, run by Lake Superior State's Aquatic Lab in cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources. Although Atlantics can be taken on hardware or bait, like other salmon, they are primarily pursued by fly fishermen, who typically use wet flies -- nymphs and streamers -- to hook up with the fish in the fast-flowing rapids. It is possible to catch an occasional St. Marys Atlantic on a dry fly, but it's a rare occurrence.
The DNR is trying to duplicate the success currently enjoyed in the St. Marys by stocking Atlantic salmon at other sites in the Lake Huron basin. Atlantics have been stocked in the Thunder Bay River in Alpena, the Au Sable River near Oscoda, and Lexington harbor in southern Lake Huron. To help measure the success of the Atlantic salmon stocking program, the DNR is seeking catch information from anglers. This information is critical to helping the DNR manage this species to benefit anglers.
For more information on identifying characteristics for Atlantic salmon see our fish ID page or read this story: There's a buzz on Lake Huron - in part thanks to Atlantic salmon.