Frequently asked questions regarding inland lakes management and use in Michigan.
Aquatic Nuisance Species/Fish Disease
- What are some benefits of aquatic plants?
- I am a new angler or I am teaching my kids how to fish. Where should I go fishing?
- How many lakes are there in Michigan?
Inland Lakes Management
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of establishing a legal lake level?
- What is a Lake Improvement Board?
- What are the four stages of lake eutrophication
Michigan Inland Lakes Organizations
- How can I contribute to the Michigan Inland Lakes Partnership?
- What is the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership?
Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS)
Water Quality Monitoring
- How can I get a copy of the water quality data collected by the Department of Environmental Quality or the Department of Natural Resources for my lake?
A: Algae are not necessarily bad for an ecosystem, but they can have negative effects when abundant. Algae blooms prevent sunlight from penetrating to the lake bottom, which deters aquatic plant growth. Aquatic plants are an important part of the ecosystem because they oxygenate the water and provide food and shelter for small fish and macroinvertebrates.
A: Algae are an important part of the food chain, however “blue-green” algae are largely inedible to aquatic organisms and therefore can take over an environment easily. Blue-green algae are actually photosynthetic bacteria and can form blooms in lakes that have large amounts of nutrients in them, such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Nuisance algae blooms look like blue or green paint and release noxious odors as the algae decomposes. These blooms can become more pronounced in warm water on hot, calm summer days. Blue-green algae have been known to produce toxins which can irritate swimmers’ skin; and in some cases have killed animals that have consumed infested water.
As a general rule it is advised to avoid swimming in areas where it appears blue-green algae is located until the bloom has clears and to keep animals out of water as well. Blue-green algae is an inherent part of the overall algal community and therefore can not be eradicated. To control blooms and the amount of blue-green algae it is best to reduce the amount of nutrients entering a lake. Common sources of nutrients include lawn fertilizers, and runoff from cities, cultivated farm fields, feedlots and construction sites.
A: In lakes, algae treatments are usually intended to remove filamentous algae (i.e., mats of threadlike algae that grow on the bottom or floating at the surface). Algae treatments to lakes do not control planktonic algae (i.e., the microscopic algae that are too small to see and give the water an overall green color). Planktonic algae control would require treating the entire lake, which is rarely feasible in larger bodies of water (it often is feasible in ponds). Controlling planktonic algae problems in lakes usually requires controlling the sources of nutrients that fertilize their growth.
Aquatic Nuisance Species/Fish Diseases
Q: How can I prevent the spread of fish diseases and other aquatic nuisance species?
A: There are many nonnative aquatic invasive plants and animals that are threatening the health of our inland fisheries in Michigan. Anglers and boaters can help prevent the spread of fish diseases and other aquatic nuisance species by following a few easy steps every time they leave the water.
- Remove any visible mud, plants, fish or animals before transporting equipment
- Clean and dry anything that came in contact with water (boats, trailers, equipment, clothing, dogs, etc.)
- Never release plants, fish or animals into a body of water unless they came out of that body of water
- Boat owners also can disinfect their live wells and bilges with a solution of ½ cup bleach to 5 gallons of water
Q: The bluegills I caught are covered with little black specks or yellow grubs. What are they? Can I eat the fish?
A: The little black specks you are seeing on the fish are most likely caused by a parasite (larval trematode) that burrows into the skin and causes a cyst approximately one millimeter in diameter. This is a common disease found in earthen bottom ponds and lakes. Generally, infestations of these parasites do little damage to infected fish. Control of this parasite is not necessary because these parasites are incapable of infecting humans and are completely safe to eat.
Another common fish parasite is the “common yellow grub.” The yellow worm can grow up to 6.4mm long and appears just under the skin of fish. It has been found across North America and it appears that no fish species is immune to it. Grubs can live for several years in fish and under certain circumstances may kill fish but this is rare. Normal cooking of the fish destroys the grub, therefore infected fish are completely safe to consume according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Q: Short of closing our lake to public access, how can we prevent introductions of aquatic nuisance species?
A: The best way to prevent introductions of nuisance species is to inspect recreational watercraft. Not only is it the law to remove all vegetation before launching a boat but it is also a very good idea. There are three steps which should be taken each time you leave a body of water.
- Remove any visible mud, plants, fish or animals before transporting recreational equipment.
- Drain water from equipment (boat, motor, trailer, live wells) before transporting.
- Clean and dry anything that comes into contact with water (equipment, clothing, dogs, etc.)
- Boat owners also can disinfect their live wells and bilges with a solution of ½ cup bleach to 5 gallons of water.
One of the most effective ways to prevent new introductions of aquatic nuisance species is to educate the boaters who are using your lake on the proper procedures for cleaning their equipment. There are a variety of ways to do this. If your boat launch has a kiosk with information on your community and lake, you could display photos and information on aquatic nuisance species and the proper ways to clean equipment. The Department of Natural Resources also recently created aluminum signage for public access sights stressing the importance of clean equipment and stating that it is the law to remove all aquatic vegetation from boats before launching. One of the most effective and proactive approaches to protecting your lake is to become involved with the Clean Boats, Clean Waters program. The objective of this volunteer program is to educate citizens on how to properly inspect recreational watercraft and communicate with boater effectively on the harmful effects of aquatic invasive species.
A: Nearly all currently available aquatic plants controls are selective, meaning they impact some plants but not others. Oftentimes, lake managers will use selective chemicals to remove particularly problematic plants, such as exotic species, while leaving other beneficial plants.
A: There is no way to remove all vegetation from a lake. Aquatic plants are an important component of the lake ecosystem. They provide many benefits, including stabilizing sediments, oxygenating the water, and providing habitat for fish and invertebrates.
A: Aquatic plants provide many benefits. They stabilize sediments, which promote greater water clarity, they help oxygenate the water, and they provide valuable cover and habitat for fish and other organisms (many of which serve as main food sources for fish). Removing all aquatic plants from a lake can be expensive and a counterproductive management approach to improving the water quality.
A: Persons 12 to 15 years of age may operate a boat powered by a motor of more than 6 hp unaccompanied only if they have passed a boating safety course approved by the Department of Natural Resources and have on board their boating safety certificate. Also, those 14 years of age or older and born after December 31, 1978, may operate a PWC (personal watercraft - e.g., jetski, waverunner) legally only if they have obtained a boating safety certificate.
You can complete a boater safety pre-certification exam online at http://www.boat-ed.com/michigan/index.html. If you are 12 or older, this online safe boating course can be taken in place of the classroom course as preparation for the in-person exam, which is required to obtain your Michigan boating safety certificate.
Q: What are the rules for wearing life jackets while boating on Michigan lakes?
A: All vessels must be equipped with a personal flotation device (PDF) for each person on board or being towed. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) requires that all vessels have at least one Type I, II, or III personal flotation device that is USCG—approved, wearable, and of the proper size for each person on board or being towed. Sizing for PFDs is based on body weight and chest size. Michigan’s PFD law permits a vessel that is less than 16 feet long, or is a canoe or kayak, to choose to have either a wearable PFD (Type I, II, or III) or a throwable PFD (Type IV) for each person on board.
In addition, one USCG—approved Type IV PFD must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer and be readily accessible. Michigan law requires all children under 6 years of age to wear a USCG—approved Type I or II PFD when riding on the open deck of any vessel. Each person under 12 years of age riding on or towed behind a PWC (personal watercraft - e.g., jetski, waverunner) must wear a USCG–approved Type I or Type II personal flotation device. Each person over 12 years of age riding on or towed behind a PWC must wear a USCG–approved Type I, II, or III personal flotation device. Inflatable PFDs are not allowed on PWCs. All PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition and must be readily accessible.
A: Those less than 12 years of age:
- May operate a boat powered by a motor of no more than 6 horsepower (hp) legally without restrictions.
- May operate a boat powered by a motor of more than 6 hp but no more than 35 hp legally only if they are directly supervised on board by a person at least 16 years of age.
- May not operate a boat powered by a motor of more than 35 hp legally under any conditions.
Those 12 to 15 years of age:
- May operate a boat powered by a motor of no more than 6 hp legally without restrictions.
- May operate a boat powered by a motor of more than 6 hp legally only if they:
- Have passed a boating safety course approved by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment have on board their boating safety certificate or ...
- Are accompanied on board by a person at least 16 years of age.
Those 16 years of age or older may operate any boat on the waters of Michigan.
A: You must purchase a license if you are 17 years of age or older. If you are under 17, you may fish without a license, but you are required to observe all fishing rules and regulations. When fishing in Michigan you are required to carry your license and the identification used to purchase that license and exhibit both upon request of a Michigan Conservation Officer, a Tribal Conservation Officer or any law enforcement officer. Fishing licenses are valid from March 1 of a given year through March 31 of the following year. You can purchase a Michigan fishing license online from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources e-license website or in person at retailers throughout the state.
Source: Michigan Department of Natural Resources - Fishing licenses, seasons, regulations
Q: What does the money used to purchase a fishing license go toward?
A: When you purchase a fishing license, you’re helping to protect, preserve and enhance the sport of fishing for today and for generations to come. License fees help pay for fishery and hatchery management, habitat development and protection, endangered species programs, fishing and conservation education, lake maps and other publications, and many other valuable programs.
A: It depends on what type of private lake it is. There are two kinds: those with a connection to public waters and those with no connection. If the private lake has a connection with public waters which fish are able to migrate to or from for any length of time during any season of the year then the private lake is property of the state of Michigan and the fish may only be taken in accordance with the law. However, if the private lake has no connection with public waters then the fish are considered private property and therefore are not subject to legislative regulation with prescribes methods of fishing, closed seasons, creel limits and minimum sizes. However, possession of fish off the premises from which taken, if contrary to law, are subject to sanctions. Riparian owners determine who can be allowed to fish on such a private lake and those with permission have the same rights and privileges as the riparian owner. The public is allowed to fish on private lakes, however they are required to receive permission from a riparian owner.
Source: Law Enforcement Division PUBLIC RIGHTS ON MICHIGAN WATERS
Q: May I wade in a stream while fishing without being in trespass?
A: On a public (navigable) stream, you have the right to float the stream, to wade on the submerged soil and to fish therein. This right does not allow you to trespass upon the private uplands of abutting landowners. However, if there were to be a hazard e.g., down tree, anglers are allowed to enter the upland to avoid the hazard. Wading in a non-navigable stream, however, would be considered trespass without permission of the landowner.
A: The high water mark is the line between upland and bottomland that persists through water level changes. Below the line there is a presence of water that is recurrent and distinctive.
A: The boundary line between riparian owners and the Great Lakes is the high water mark, therefore the riparian owner controls the exposed soil between the ordinary high water mark and the water’s edge. They are allowed to prevent the public from trespassing on the exposed soil however, the public does have the right of passage in any area adjacent to riparian land covered by water.
A: There is no strict answer to this question. Many variables come into play when determining whether or not it is safe enough to go out on the ice. Visit the following Michigan DNR webpage for some safety tips on ice fishing: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10366_46403-182757—,00.html
A: For stocking to be successful there are many factors which need to be considered. The hatchery closest to the body of water to be stocked is not always going to be the one to stock the fish. The fish species chosen to be reared in a hatchery are based on many things: stocking requests made by Fisheries Biologists, physical structure of the hatchery, water temperature and source, waste water discharge limitations, disease management issues and biological requirements of each species and strain. The goal of stocking is to produce the healthiest fish which will survive and meet the needs of Fisheries Managers and anglers. The fish hatchery that stocked your lake was chosen because it produces the highest quality fish, not necessarily because of its distance to your lake.
Q: Am I allowed to walk along railroad tracks while going to and from a fishing spot?
A: No, railroad right-of-ways are private property and trespassing on them is a misdemeanor. If you would like to walk on the trestles or bridges you must have written permission from the railroad company stating that you are exempt from railway trespass.
A: There are a lot of great online resources available to assist in fish identification. Here are a few:
- Michigan Sea Grant Fish Database - Database which includes common fish found in the Great Lakes and Michigan
- Michigan Department of Natural Resources - Guide to common fish species of Michigan
- Fish Identification Database - Fish database put together by the University of Wisconsin Center of Limnology, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Wisconsin Sea Grant.
- Wisconsin Sea Grant Fish Identification Guide - Information on fish found in the Great Lakes region.
A: There is a list of Family Friendly Fishing Waters on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website. These are great places for beginning anglers to become acquainted with fishing.
A: There are more than 11,000 inland lakes, 5 acres in size or larger, in Michigan. According to the Michigan Historical Society, one is never more than 6 miles from an inland lake or more than 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes.
Q: What is the largest inland lake in Michigan?
A: The largest inland lake in Michigan by surface area is Houghton Lake, which has an area of 31.3 square miles. Torch Lake, which is the second largest at 29 square miles, is also the deepest, reaching a maximum depth of 297 feet. Find more interesting facts about Michigan’s natural resources at: http://michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-30301_31431—-,00.html
A: A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place. A map of Michigan’s major watersheds can be found at: /uploads/files/FAQPage/Major_Watersheds_24k.pdf
Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of establishing a legal lake level?
A: Some advantages include:
- Stabilization of water levels protecting property values and the lake environment
- Maximization of recreational benefits
- Provides winter drawdown level which minimizes shoreline ice damage, erosion damage, and flooding
- Assists with controlling some aquatic weeds
- County Board of Commissioners, the County Drain Commissioner or other authority are responsible for maintaining desired lake levels
- All benefited subdivisions and property owners share the cost of maintenance
- Time it takes to establish legal lake level (one year or more)
- Can negatively impact pike spawning if flooding of marshes is reduced
- Eliminates seasonal water fluctuations, which can be important to the life history of several plant and animal species
- Lake level control structures block movements of fish between the lake and the outlet stream. This is significant because many fish species exhibit seasonal movements to spawning, nursery, and foraging habitat.
- Benefited property owners normally pay the costs of establishing a legal level. Costs include studies and surveys, construction, court costs, operating and maintenance of control structures.
A: A vegetative buffer zone is defined as an undeveloped area directly adjacent to a body of water. Buffer zones include aquatic plants and shoreline vegetation and serve many purposes:
- Reduce runoff by increasing storm water infiltration into soil. Reduced runoff means less nutrients and other pollutants are entering the water body
- Stabilize soils with plant root systems
- Reduce shoreline erosion
- Improve wildlife and fish habitat by providing food and shelter
A: Foam can appear naturally on lakes and streams, or it may be the result of the release of soaps or other pollutants into the water. Foam caused by soaps will feel slippery when rubbed between the fingers, and will often have a perfume aroma, while natural foam will feel dry and be unscented.Foam can appear naturally on lakes and streams, or it may be the result of the release of soaps or other pollutants into the water. Foam caused by soaps will feel slippery when rubbed between the fingers, and will often have a perfume aroma, while natural foam will feel dry and be unscented. Please review the foam article from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on the causes of foam. For more information on lake and stream phenomena including the appearance of foam, please review this website from the University of Maine.
Q: Do I need a permit to stock fish in my lake or pond?
A: Yes. In most instances you must have a Public Waters Stocking Permit from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to stock fish in your lake. A permit is not required if there is only one property owner on the lake AND the lake does not have any connections to any other bodies of water.
A: Lake Improvement Boards are formal local government boards authorized by PA 451 of 1994, Part 308. The board’s membership includes: a county commissioner, two township representatives, the county drain commissioner, and a citizen property owner. A Lake Board’s project authority is fairly broad, and it has the authority to fund a project through the creation of a special assessment tax. A project may be initiated by the local governmental board by resolution or in response to a petition from two-thirds of the freeholders owning land abutting the lake. Once formed the Lake Improvement Board must retain a registered professional engineer to provide a feasibility report with the project recommendations, an estimate of cost and a proposed assessment district to pay for the project. The Lake Board holds two public hearings, one to determine if the community supports the project and a second to determine the appropriateness of the special assessment district. If approved by the community, the Lake Board must advertise for bids and sign contracts to complete the project. If certain conditions are met, the local governmental board may hold a hearing to dissolve the Lake Improvement Board.
A:Township lake management projects are authorized by PA 188 of 1954. The township may set up a special assessment district for the lake project and citizen communities to provide input. A project may be initiated by the township board by resolution or in response to a petition from residents. The township passes a resolution initiating the project and prepares a project plan with cost estimates. The board schedules a public hearing to receive comments on the proposed project and special assessment district. If the community supports the project the board solicits bids and awards a contract for completion of the project. The project may be terminated by a vote of people in the district.
A: Water and nutrient budgets can be used in mathematical lake models to address many questions that the community may have regarding the lake. A budget is the summing of all the sources of water or nutrients coming into and leaving a lake. A water budget would account for the amount of water coming from rain falling on the lake, streams and rivers entering and leaving the lake, runoff from shoreline areas, and ground water entering and leaving the lake. A nutrient budget would account for levels of nutrients, usually phosphorous in these water sources and other sources of nutrients such as dry fallout from atmospheric dust particles.
A: Lake eutrophication is the increasing ability of a lake to produce plants, algae, fish and other life forms. It is generally understood that the more sediments and nutrients that wash off the watershed and into the lake the greener the lake becomes. The nutrients act as fertilizers to produce more plants and algae and ultimately more fish. The dying plants and animals produce more muck on the bottom of the lake. A lake that has more nutrients and therefore more plants and animals and resulting muck is said to be biologically productive. In other words, capable of producing more aquatic life.
A: Scientists have given names to different stages of increased biological productivity or trophic states in the eutrophication of lakes. Low productive clear lakes are known as oligotrophic. Lakes that are slightly more biologically productive, having moderate populations of plants and algae are called mesotrophic. Highly productive lakes with abundant plants and algae are eutrophic. Finally, lakes that are extremely productive with excessive amounts of plants and/or algae are hypereutrophic.
Michigan Inland Lakes Organizations
A: Click HERE for a detailed description of how you can support the Michigan Inland Lakes Partnership.
A: The Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership is made up of non-profit organizations, state agencies, and universities and promotes the use of natural shorelines on inland lakes in Michigan. The partnership trains contractors and landscape professionals about shoreline technologies and bioengineered erosion control as well as educates property owners about the benefits of maintaining a natural shoreline and inland lake ecosystems. The partnership also encourages local and state policies that promote natural shoreline management. To learn more about the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership visit their webpage.
A: Swimmer’s itch is caused by a blood fluke common in waterfowl. The itching is caused when the fluke, while in the immature stage of its life cycle (referred to as “cercaria”), mistakes you for its primary host—waterfowl—and burrows into your skin. Aside from the annoying itching, it’s harmless to humans. The occurrence of swimmer’s itch in a lake does not mean that the lake is polluted. Learn more about swimmer’s itch and how to avoid getting it at the Minnesota DNR’s Web site.
Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia
A: VHS is a viral disease affecting more than 40 species of marine and freshwater fish in North America. It is normally a marine fish virus, but researchers believe it moved into the Great Lakes through ballast water of oceanic vessels. VHS has infected more than 18 species of fish in the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada.
A: No. VHS is not a human pathogen. There are no concerns with respect to VHS and human health according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The virus cannot infect humans if they eat fish with the pathogen. However, it is important to know that VHS is an international reportable animal disease that requires notification of and action by the United States Department of Agriculture — Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS), Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and the International Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
A: VHS has been confirmed in 18 fish species in the Great Lakes. VHS has caused large fish kills in freshwater drum, muskellunge, round gobies, gizzard shad, white bass and yellow perch. VHS has also been confirmed in smaller mortality events in lake whitefish, walleye, smallmouth bass, black crappie and bluegill.
Q: How does VHS affect fish?
A: The VHS pathogen found in the Great Lakes basin is most active in cold water (less than 15 degrees Celsius), which is why mortalities are more often seen during the spring. Infected fish exhibit hemorrhaging of the skin, including large, red patches on the sides and anterior portion of the head. It is important to know that not all infected fish exhibit external signs of the virus. Internally, fish organs are often congested with multiple hemorrhages in the liver, spleen, and intestines.
VHS kills fish usually by internal organ failure, particularly affecting the kidneys, or the inability to osmoregulate. Sick fish appear listless, swim in circles, or hang just below the surface. Fish that survive infection can carry the virus throughout their lives. VHS is transmitted by urine, feces, and reproductive fluids.
Q: What can anglers and boaters do to help stop the spread of VHS?
A: Clean boats, trailers, and other equipment thoroughly between fishing trips to keep from transporting undesirable fish pathogens and organisms from one water body to another. Take special care to clean fishing equipment when fishing known locations of VHS. A light bleach solution is an excellent disinfectant for cleaning equipment (1 cup for 10 gallons of water). After cleaning, allow boats, trailers and other equipment to fully dry for four to six hours in the sun. It is important to remember to never move fish from one body of water to another and to never release live bait into any water body.
Source: MI Sea Grant VHS Fact Sheet
Water Quality Monitoring
Q: What is the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program?
A: The Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program (CLMP) is the second oldest volunteer monitoring program for inland lakes in the country. The primary purpose of the cooperative program is to help citizen volunteers monitor indicators of water quality in their lake and document changes in lake quality over time. The program provides baseline information, educates lakes residents in the collection of water quality data and lake ecology, and builds a constituency of citizens to practice sound lake management at the local level and build public support for lake quality protection. The CLMP provides a cost-effective process for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to increase baseline data for lakes state-wide. To learn more about the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program visit http://www.micorps.net.
A: The CLMP provides sampling methods, training workshops, technical support, quality control, and laboratory assistance for volunteers to monitor their lakes. CLMP volunteers monitor for indicators of lake productivity, or the amount of plant and animal life that can be produced within the lake. Water quality parameters included water transparency, total phosphorus, chlorophyll, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and aquatic plants. The CLMP is open to all lake associations, corporations and individuals. Due to limited equipment and laboratory capacity, some monitoring programs have limited enrollment. To learn more about training requirements and program fees, visit http://www.micorps.net/lakevolunteer.html.
A: For water quality information from the DNR contact your local Customer Service Center, here. The DNR publishes “Status of the Fishery” reports listed by county here. Not all inland lake surveys are published to the web, your local Customer Service Center will be able to assist you.
For water quality information fromthe DEQ contact DEQ’s Office of Environmental Assistance. Contact information is available here.
If you have a question concerning inland lakes that was not answered here, please contact Dr. Jo Latimore at Michigan State University by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at (517) 432-1491.