ROGERS CITY - The early arrival of a prized species of salmon has contributed to a diverse fishery and a good year for fishing off the shores of Rogers City.
Anglers started catching Chinook salmon in the waters around Rogers City a few weeks early, according to Department of Natural Resources staff and fishermen familiar with the water. Add this to a grab bag of trout and salmon species, healthy fish and consistent catches, and fishing near Rogers City is looking good-if the weather cooperates.
"Last weekend, we had a pretty bad blow from the west and northwest," said Julie Shafto, Rogers City and Presque Isle area Great Lakes creel clerk. "It brought in a lot of warm water."
News Photo by Jordan Travis
Rogers City isn’t alone in having an active fishery this year: Capt. Larry Sanderson of the Bounty Hunter puts his rods away for the day in Alpena after a successful trip.
Certain species prefer colder water, and a rapid change in temperature in the water column creates a type of structure around which a lot of sport fish are found, Shafto said. Unfavorable winds can blow in warmer water, pushing the temperature break - and the fish - into deeper waters.
Once the winds bring back cooler waters, fishing should get back to what Shafto said is an excellent year in recent history.
"Overall, for this time of year in particular since I've been here in 1999, I'd say it's probably the best I've seen it, for not just Chinooks but for everything," she said.
Todd Curtis, a Rogers City resident with more than 30 years' experience in fishing his hometown waters, was more reserved in his assessment.
"It's good, I would not say great, but it's good," he said.
Curtis agreed that quality fish are showing up early in the year. He saw a drop-off in fishing when westerly winds brought warmer waters.
"We've just got to wait for that cold water to blow back in," he said.
When they do, he and other anglers can expect the unexpected: when the fish hit, they could be one of a handful of species being caught off the shores of Presque Isle County.
"I just can't say enough about the diversity," Shafto said. Anglers have been reporting catches of Chinook, Coho and Atlantic salmon, steelhead, lake trout and pink trout.
Curtis and another angler caught five fish on a Tuesday night trip, he said. Out of those, there were three different species: an Atlantic, a Chinook and a steelhead.
Frank Krist, Lake Huron Citizens Fishery Advisory Committee chairman, said this can be a draw for anglers.
"I've talked to a lot of anglers who said it's more exciting now because you just don't know what you're going to catch," he said.
Along with early Chinook catches, anglers are also benefiting from the two-year life cycle of the pink salmon, Krist said. The fish show up on even years, and they're especially abundant this year.
While pinks are much smaller than other sport fish in the area, Krist said, they make for extremely good eating. They also put up a fight when caught, making them fun to catch.
Fishing has improved in recent years, largely because certain species have adapted to a drastic change in Lake Huron's food web, Krist said. With the invasion of zebra mussels, then quagga mussels, a common bait fish called the alewife disappeared from the lake several years ago. This was devastating to Chinook salmon numbers.
"For the last four or five years, they've been stabilizing," he said. "They've been getting bigger and fatter" as they learned to feed on other bait fish in other parts of the water column.
Another reason is the surprising resilience of the Atlantic salmon, Krist said. They're stocked in relatively small numbers by the state, and survive much better than others. In contrast, stocked brown trout are decimated by predators within the first year.
In light of their hardiness and the fishing opportunities they'd provide, the state is considering its options with Atlantic salmon stocking, Krist said.
Now, Krist and other anglers are awaiting the arrival of walleye, he said. The nocturnal fish known for its delicious flesh has exploded in numbers in Saginaw Bay, and are swimming north as far as the Straits of Mackinac.
"We anticipate any time here we'll start catching walleyes," he said.
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5688.