Lake Trout Seasons Are A Mystery
By Mark Romanack
The author caught this beautiful lake trout recently in Lake Superior where lake trout season remains open year around. In Northern Lakes Huron and Michigan the lake trout season is only open from January 1 to September 30 effectively taking away fishing opportunities from those who pay to create these fisheries in the first place.
Those anglers who enjoy targeting lake trout in Northern Lake Michigan and also Northern Lake Huron might be asking themselves why the fishing season in this region of the Great Lakes is so limited for lake trout. Currently the season opens on January 1 and closes on September 30. In Northern Lake Huron the daily bag limit is 3 lake trout and in Northern Lake Michigan the daily bag limit is 2 lake trout.
Considering that Mother Nature pretty much eliminates any chance of fishing these northernmost Great Lakes waters in January, February and March, the question becomes why are these waters effectively off limits to sport fishing for six months of the year?
The simple answer is these waters fall within the restrictions of the 2000 Tribal Consent Decree an agreement between the State of Michigan, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and five native American tribes in Northern Michigan. This agreement expired in August of 2021 and ongoing negotiations to renew this agreement have not grown fruit.
Effectively the Consent Decree grants the tribes rights to commercially fish for select species including lake trout using a variety of gear including trap and gill nets in these treaty waters. When the sport fishing season closes on September 30, the tribes continue to commercially fish these waters.
LAKE TROUT SANCTUARIES
Two lake trout sanctuaries are located in these waters including one just east of DeTour Passage in Northern Lake Huron and a second sanctuary near Fox Island in Northern Lake Michigan. Both of these sanctuaries are closed to the harvest of lake trout year around.
Both of these sanctuaries were established as a means of studying lake trout natural reproduction in these regions of the Great Lakes. However, no active research has been conducted in these sanctuaries in many years. So again, the question becomes why are these areas closed to sport fishing?
This lake trout was caught near DeTour Passage an area that is intensely fished with commercial nets year around. Ironically, the sport fishing season for lake trout in this same area closes on September 30. As negotiations continue for the Tribal Consent Decree the question becomes are Michigan’s sport fishermen being heard at these negotiations?
WISCONSIN INCREASES LAKE TROUT LIMITS
Meanwhile, Wisconsin has taken a completely different path in regards to lake trout. Currently the lake trout season in Wisconsin runs from March 1 to October 31. The daily limit on lake trout has recently changed from three fish daily to five fish daily, effective July 23, 2021.
So the Wisconsin DNR feels that Lake Michigan has too many lake trout and sport fishing is a viable means of reducing the numbers of lake trout.
Wisconsin of course is not regulated by the Consent Decree and is free to set fishing regulations as they see appropriate. Still, it’s frustrating that Michigan anglers are prevented from targeting lake trout for much of the year when trout populations are at an all time high.
It’s no secret that the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been stocking significant numbers of lake trout in both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron for a number of years now. Anglers might find it interesting that in Lake Huron the feds stock lake trout in and near the sanctuary waters. Not only are these waters off limits to sport fishing, the lake trout population in the sanctuary is especially high.
When young lake trout are stocked within the sanctuary, many of these fish end up fish food instead of a resource sport fishermen can benefit from.
WHAT DOES THE DNR HAVE TO SAY?
Because the Tribal Consent Decree is in the negotiation process, the Michigan DNR will not comment on lake trout seasons, stocking efforts, research or other topics associated with the Northern Lake Huron and Lake Michigan fisheries. So as sportsmen, we wait and hope that the Michigan DNR has our sport fishing interests well in hand.