Master Angler Program Proves 2011 Was a Great Year for Big Salmon

Shannon Peters of Mt. Pleasant caught this 17.12 pound rainbow trout from the Manistee River.

February 16, 2012

Word around the west side of the state last summer was that big salmon were back. Now that the Department of Natural Resources' annual report on fish entered in the Master Angler Program has been completed, we know the stories were more than just fish tales.

Anglers submitted 33 Chinook salmon that were awarded Master Angler status in 2011, compared to three in 2010. It was similar for Coho salmon; the DNR recognized 13 Master Angler Coho salmon caught in 2011, compared to just one in 2010.

The Master Angler Program recognizes anglers who catch fish that exceed certain size standards. When the program was created in 1973, Master Angler fish were judged solely on weight. As catch-and-release fishing caught on with the angling public, however, the DNR began offering Master Angler status to fish based on length, too. The catch and release category now recognizes significantly more anglers and fish each year than the traditional catch and keep category.

 Mitchell Patalon of Howell holds his 14 inch Houghton Lake crappie.

The heaviest Chinook salmon entered in the program in 2011 was a 37.06 pound behemoth caught by Richard Schulte on Aug. 23. Schulte's Chinook was one of five kings in the catch and keep category that bested 30 pounds. (Chinook salmon must weigh 27 pounds for Master Angler status.)

In the catch and release category, Craig Morton of Westlake, La., submitted a fish that measured 43.13 inches (just a hair longer than Schulte's 43-incher). Morton took his fish Sept. 30 while fly fishing on the Manistee River.

Interestingly enough, all five fish in the catch and release category were caught in rivers, two in the Manistee, two in the Pere Marquette and one in the Muskegon. In the keep category, only two came from rivers (both from the Manistee), though one was also caught inland, in Pere Marquette Lake.

As for Coho, the largest fish kept, a 14.06 pounder take on a spoon in Lake Michigan, was caught by Matthew Kemmerer of St. Louis, Mo. Only one of the 12 in the category was taken inland, a 12.94 pound specimen taken in Manistee Lake.

The only Master Angler Coho in the catch-and-release category was a 32.38 inch fish taken by Shirley Brock of Canton in the Pere Marquette River.

Aside from salmon in the Lake Michigan watershed, 2011 was just an average year for big fish in Michigan. There were no state records established and the number of Master Angler fish was down overall from the previous year. The program recognized 379 fish (down from 442 in 2010) in the keep category and 723 (down from 828 in 2010) in the catch and release category.

In 2011, the number of Master Angler fish recognized was down for the majority of species. But there were some exceptions; carp fishermen reported returning 45 Master Angler fish (compared to 33 in 2010), the largest a 41.5 inch specimen caught on a dough ball from Mott Lake by Trent Kehoe of Genesee. The largest kept carp (39 pounds) was caught from White Lake by Jay Feltman of Whitehall.

Joshua Berns of Dundee caught this 24-inch largemouth form Little Platte Lake.

Similarly, 109 rock bass were certified as Master Angler fish in the catch and release category, compared to 74 in 2010.

Brook trout ran big in 2011, too. The DNR recognized eight, twice as many as in 2010, in the keep category, the largest a 3.06 pounder taken by Walter Tuccini of Marquette from Roland Lake in Baraga County. Among released fish (five compared to just one in 2010), Marvin Ruhinen of Gwinn set the standard with an 18 incher taken from Strawberry Lake in Marquette County on a Sidewinder.

Master Angler muskellunge catches were down in both keep and release categories. The biggest kept muskie was a 33.5 pound, 49.75 inch fish speared by Mark Ormsbee of Brutus from Burt Lake. The longest released muskie was a 55 incher caught by Charles Hazel of Wolverine Lake from the Detroit River.

The heaviest largemouth bass entered in the keep category (8.56 pounds) was caught by Gerald Quay of Belding, taken from Wabasis Lake in Kent County on a topwater lure. Meanwhile, David Held of Ada released a 25 incher, taken on a Jitterbug in Waplers Lake. Overall, the DNR recognized five kept largemouth (the same as in 2010) and 28 released largemouths, down from 47 the previous year.

Caden Callaghan of Columbus, Ohio, shows off a 6.61 pound whitefish.

The heaviest smallmouth bass submitted in the keep category was caught by Margo Hoogstraten of Wolverine, 6.69 pound bronzeback taken on a minnow on Burt Lake. The longest Master Angler smallmouth in the release category was taken by Hannah Douglas of Allendale for a 27.13 incher from Muskegon Lake. The DNR recognized 17 kept smallmouths (down from 29 in 2010) and 66 released smallmouths, up from 57 in 2010.

Master Angler walleye submissions were down by more than half from the previous year in both categories. John Kinkead of Southgate brought in the heaviest, a 15.9 pound specimen from the Detroit River that measured 31.13 inches. In the catch and release category, Harvey Budnick of Holland returned a 33 incher caught on a Husky Jerk on Lake Michigan. Overall, the DNR certified 12 kept walleye (down from 27 in 2010) and 14 released walleye, down from 30 the previous year.

9.25 inch pumpkinseed.

"The Master Angler Program is very helpful to us," said acting Fisheries Division Chief Jim Dexter. "For one thing, it helps verify what we're hearing from the anglers and our creel clerks. And it helps us better understand where the big fish are being caught and what techniques are producing for our fishermen.

"But it also allows us to recognize the participating anglers. We appreciate them and appreciate hearing from them and sharing in their successes."

For more information on the Master Angler Program, visit Fishing