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Fishing Lake Michigan trout and salmon?

Fishing Wisconsin

Select a question from the list below, or scroll down the page to browse the individual answers below.

Questions and Answers

Why isn't there a special snagging season for salmon on some rivers?

The biggest reason is that the majority of the fishing community does not consider snagging to be a fair way to catch trout and salmon, and snagging also interferes with other types of fishing. In addition, many snaggers catch the fish simply to collect the eggs from the fish, leaving the carcass to rot on the streambank. This is a waste of the resource and can lead to public health concerns.

How does one distinguish Seeforellen Brown Trout from "German" Brown Trout? and do "German" and Seeforellen browns run at different times?

Seeforellens and "German" browns are different strains of the same species. Seeforellens can be distinguished by fin clips, although only fish stocked in the Menominee, Kewaunee and Root Rivers are generally clipped. Differences in the time of spawning and age at maturity can also be used to distinguish each strain from the other, but physically the fish are very similar. The "German" or Domestic strain of brown trout may begin staging in harbor mouths for their spawning run beginning in July, with the majority of the run occurring in September and October. The spawning run for Seeforellens generally occurs in November and December. The age at which the fish matures is also a distinguishing characteristic of each strain, with the Domestic brown trout maturing at 2-3 years of age and the Seeforellen at 3-4 years. This later age of maturity in the Seeforellen usually allows for greater growth before their first spawning.

Where do all the trout and salmon go after spawning?

All coho and chinook salmon die after spawning as part of their life cycles. Brown trout, steelhead and brook trout do not automatically die following spawning, although some will die simply from old age, stress from spawning or an infection such as fungus brought on by spawning activity. Depending on their age, some trout will return to Lake Michigan.

How can you distinguish a non-spawning fish as male or female?

From the outside it is difficult, although male steelhead often exhibits greater head length than females. The most definitive way to tell is to cut the fish open.

I see a small yellow mark on Chinook salmon, what is it?

The short answer is that the yellow mark is a condensed area of pigment, much like a birthmark. There is no pathological significance of the mark. This yellow mark IS NOT a mark applied by agencies to determine stocked versus naturally reproduced trout and salmon. All marking of stocked salmonids in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are accomplished with traditional fin clips.

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BKD -- What is it? Where is it from? Are infected fish edible?

BKD stands for Bacterial Kidney Disease, an internal infection caused by the bacterium Renibacterium salmoninarum. External signs of the disease include "popeye" and small closed blisters or fluid-filled blobs between the skin and muscle. Internally, the kidneys are most often affected, becoming swollen and developing discrete white areas that contain bacteria. BKD was present in the first eggs obtained from Pacific salmon. Outbreaks appear to occur when fish are stressed from lack of sufficient forage. Fish showing signs of BKD are generally in such poor condition that, at the very least, renders the flesh unpalatable.

Does the absence of any fin clips on a lake trout mean that some are reproducing naturally?

Not likely, since the number of unclipped fish captured in surveys and documented in the creel survey is very small. The absence of clips is generally due to fish being missed during clipping or from the regeneration of fins. A dramatic increase in the number of unclipped fish above historical levels might indicate increased natural reproduction.

Are there any splake or whitefish or tiger hybrids in Lake Michigan?

Splake, which are a cross between a brook trout and a lake trout, are stocked on a regular basis into Green Bay. Lake whitefish are native to Lake Michigan and the population has been increasing in recent years. Round whitefish, or menominees, are also native to Lake Michigan and their numbers are secure. Tiger trout, which are a cross between a brook trout and a brown trout, were stocked into the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan from 1974 through 1977. The program was discontinued due to poor returns.

Are spawning fish (in the rivers) any less safe to consume?

The Department publishes advice on how much fish people can safely consume due to contaminants. Fish consumption advice for Lake Michigan trout and salmon species is the same whether those migrating species are caught in Lake Michigan or in one of its tributaries. A special study was conducted and showed that for Lake Michigan trout and salmon migrating into tributaries, the fish do not accumulate additional amounts of contaminants after entering the river or stream.

Fish that die after spawning, like chinook and coho salmon, maybe less palatable since they do not feed during their spawning runs and their muscle tissue begins to break down. Fish that do not die after spawning, like steelhead, brown trout and brook trout, are generally in much better condition during spawning.

How many eggs are there in a female coho salmon? Female steelhead?

There are 1,000 to 3,000 eggs in a female coho salmon, depending on the size of the fish. A female steelhead may contain 3,000 to 5,000 eggs, depending on the size and age of the fish.

How do you tell the difference between the strains of steelhead?

Although there are slight differences in body conformity, fin clips are used to positively identify the strains of steelhead. This is why all steelhead stocked into Root and Kewaunee Rivers (brood streams) are fin-clipped. Knowing the strain of the fish prevents the breeding of one strain with another.

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How old are the fish when they spawn?

Coho salmon generally spawn at 2+ years (two summers in the lake). Some male cohos will spawn after only one summer in the lake. The majority of steelhead spawn at 3 and 4 years, with some spawning at 5 to 6 years. The oldest steelhead spawned at the Root River Steelhead Facility was an 8-year-old male. The majority of chinook salmon spawn after spending 2 to 4 summers in the lake. A chinook spawning after 4 summers in the lake would be 3+ years old since they are stocked as spring fingerlings that are less than a year old. Brown trout typically spawn at age 2 to 4.

Why don't trout and salmon reproduce naturally?

The spawning streams on the Wisconsin shoreline of Lake Michigan are not conducive to natural reproduction of trout and salmon because the summer water temperatures are too high for survival of trout fingerlings and heavy loads of sediment smother eggs incubating in the stream bed.

Frequently asked questions

For additional information on Wisconsin fishing, (e.g., maps, fish consumption advisories), please see our list of frequently asked questions.