Time to put catching a Lake Huron Atlantic Salmon on your "To-do" list

angler holding an Atlantic salmon caught on Au Sable RiverIn the July 2016 edition of Reel in Michigan's Fisheries an emerging fishery on Lake Huron was profiled - Atlantic salmon. The story touted how the species' reputation in that lake was growing day-by-day and the value of knowing how to properly identify these fish.

Nothing has changed since that article came out, if anything opportunities are growing! Tim Cwalinski, the DNR fisheries biologist within the Northern Lake Huron Management Unit who serves on the department's Atlantic Salmon Task Group echoes that sentiment.

"Atlantic salmon have created a buzz in Lake Huron," he said. "This is still an experimental program, but we're understanding more and more about this species and how it can fit the niche in this environment where Chinook salmon once were dominant."

If you harken back to that July 2016 story, the development of this experiment stemmed from the Chinook fishery declining in Lake Huron in the early 2000s and fisheries managers noticing that Atlantic salmon were increasingly producing better catch rates - purely from the fish reared by Lake Superior State University (LSSU) and stocked in the St. Marys River.

The department has subsequently started rearing Atlantic salmon at its Platte River State Fish Hatchery, producing about 150,000 fish per year. Since then, the DNR has reduced stocking numbers to reduce stress and disease in the hatchery raceways. Together with LSSU's fish, stocking has occurred at four different locations on an annual basis: St. Marys River, Au Sable River, Thunder Bay River and Lexington harbor. Each fish is clipped uniquely so once anglers report their catches biologists can determine where the fish was originally stocked, compared to where it was caught.

Cwalinski explains the program has evolved over time and tweaks are being made to produce higher-quality fish that have a better chance of surviving in the wild.

"Much of our focus is on the timing of stocking to allow the fish to adapt more quickly to their new environment," he said. "Usually they're stocked in late April and early May, at a time when the temperatures of the hatchery are more similar to the receiving water, when water temperatures are around 50 degrees Fahrenheit."

These tweaks have helped to produce greater returns, determined through angler catch reports. Most of the fish reported in 2017 were two or three years old. Cwalinski says there is a continual emphasis on public awareness so anglers recognize the value of reporting their catches.

"When you catch an Atlantic salmon - regardless where you're at in the lake - please report it to your local DNR fisheries biologist," he asked. "We need anglers to report the length of the fish and what its clip is. If the fish has its adipose fin clipped then we also want you to send in the head, if harvested, because it contains a Coded Wire Tag that tells us stocking site and date."

The DNR will continue to put energy into the Atlantic salmon program and monitor the impacts of those efforts. Even though the Platte River State Fish Hatchery is at rearing capacity for Atlantic salmon, the department will continue to do what it can to provide fish for this unique angling opportunity!

Want to learn more about Atlantic salmon, including how to properly identify them? We've got a webpage dedicated to identifying Great Lakes salmon and trout; including Atlantics, Chinooks, cohos, rainbows (steelhead) and browns.