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Angling for Answers on Michigan's Pike Regulations

Child wearing fishing equipment and holding a fish.

April 19, 2012

Do Michigan anglers want simple, one size fits all fishing regulations or are they willing to accept diverse rules that are tailored to individual bodies of water?

That's the key question as Department of Natural Resources fisheries officials attempt to rework pike regulations across the state. Fisheries Division has been working on the issue for five years. The excitement of hooking this fish from the Kalamazoo River near Douglas, Michigan is sure to make a lifelong angler out of this young man. (Image on the right.)

Currently, the standard pike fishing regulations call for a 24 inch minimum size limit with a daily creel limit of no more than two.

But there are a couple of exceptions. On roughly 100 bodies of water across the state, there is no minimum size limit with a daily creel of five, regulations imposed largely on waters where the majority of the pike are small. On about 10 other waters, where pike have good growth rates and are known to reach a large size, there is a 30 inch minimum length limit with a daily creel limit of one.

The new proposal, which was posted to the Internet in late March for public comment:

  • Maintains the standard 24 inch minimum, two fish limit.
  • Allows the no minimum length, five fish exception (though it also restricts the creel limit to no more than one pike longer than 24 inches) for some waters.
  • Replaces the 30 inch minimum, one fish limit with a protected slot limit, pike 24 to 34 inches would have to be released immediately and a two fish daily creel limit.

"We're trying to see if anglers think the regulations are too complex or if they're willing to look at more options," explained Kregg Smith, the fisheries biologist who chairs the DNR's internal pike and muskellunge committee. "Certainly, our committee would like more options because of the diversity in pike populations across the state.

A satisfied angler shows off a good sized pike caught on Au Train Lake.

"We have differences in growth rates, differences in exploitation rates by anglers, and differences in population sizes," Smith said. "The wide diversity of those population characteristics means a single regulation may be difficult to manage pike across the state."

Anglers have responded. In less than a week, the website seeking angler input received more than 900 comments.

"There's a wide range of responses," Smith said. "It's pretty clear anglers have different opinions. There are anglers who want to harvest pike, there are anglers who want to catch trophy pike, and there are anglers who just like to fish for pike for the fishing experience.

"So far, it looks like anglers are willing to accept more complexity in regulations. Eighty percent of anglers support more complex regulations. They want more diverse fishing opportunity for northern pike."

Northern pike are native across the northern United States and Canada. They prefer waters that are on the cool end of the warm-water spectrum. Pike are usually associated with weedy habitats and are generally caught in shallow water, though they are more difficult to catch in summer. It was once believed by many that pike lose their teeth in summer, a possible explanation for the reduced catch rates in hot weather, though biologists think the catch-rate declines in summer because pike move into water that is deeper than where anglers typically seek them.

Voracious feeders, pike are willing biters, making them a popular quarry for anglers, but also quite subject to angling pressure. Pike season is open year-round in the Great Lakes and connecting waters of the Lower Peninsula, closed from March 15 to the last Saturday in April in the inland waters of the Lower Peninsula, and closed from March 15 to May 15 in Upper Peninsula inland waters, Upper Peninsula waters of the Great Lakes, and the St. Marys River.

Northern pike lack the high profile of other warm-water game fish, notably bass and walleye, but are important predators and worthy game fish.

"I think a lot of people fish for them, but you don't hear a lot about them," Smith said. "They are widely distributed, they're in 80 percent of our lakes, and almost all anglers encounter them. But the size structure has shifted to a smaller size."

Smith said there could be a number of reasons why the size structure has changed over the years.

"It could be exploitation," he said. "It could be loss of habitat. It could be the fish have shifted toward spawning at a younger age and are putting more energy into spawning and not as much into growth."

That anglers would encounter a greater number of small fish is only natural, Smith said.

"In a natural population there are more young fish out there," he said. "Natural reproduction produces a lot of fish and those are the highest numbers in the population until they start experiencing mortality. And anglers harvest only the larger-sized fish because of regulations, so that shifts the size structure downward."

For more details on proposed pike regulations, visit www.michigan.gov/dnrfishing. The Department of Natural Resources will accept public comment on the proposed regulations until May 25, 2012.

The Fisheries Division will summarize the public comments and prepare a final proposal for regulation changes for the DNR director's approval. The final proposal will be presented to the Natural Resources Commission this fall in order to implement any new regulations by the beginning of the new license year on April 1, 2013.

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