Lake Huron charter trips remain steady in 2013 as walleye catch rates soar

Michigan charter boat operators logged 1,536 trips on Lake Huron waters in 2013. Charter effort on Lake Huron has not increased much in recent years despite the fantastic walleye fishing and diverse salmon and trout catches.

The story of Lake Huron’s “collapse” was widely reported in outdoor media, but now there is a new story that is getting national attention. Lake Huron is back, but for some reason anglers have been slow to take advantage of the new opportunities offered. Charter fishing effort on Lake Huron dropped by 50 percent after the decline of Alewife and Chinook Salmon in the early 2000s, but despite improved fishing, anglers have yet to flock back to Lake Huron.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) recently released charter fishing catch and effort data from Lake Huron waters during the 2013 season. In 2012, charter operators logged 1,594 trips on Lake Huron waters, and this dropped slightly to 1,536 in 2013. The number of trips taken in 2013 was the second highest in the past five years but remained low relative to historic trip numbers of 2,200 to 3,200 per year.

What was most surprising about the 2013 season on Lake Huron was the continued improvement in the lake’s booming walleye fishery. While Lake Erie is better known for offering up consistent walleye action, Lake Huron’s charter fishing catch rates surpassed even Lake Erie in 2013. The average Lake Huron charter fishing party targeting walleye could expect to come home with nine walleye in the cooler in 2010 and release another three.  Fishing has improved every year since, and in 2013, the average walleye charter trip produced fourteen fish for the table and another eight fish that were released. That is fantastic fishing by any standard!

While most of the walleye fishing is concentrated in Saginaw Bay, walleye are wanderers and can be found in good numbers at southern and northern Lake Huron ports as Saginaw Bay warms and walleye move into cooler waters. This means that salmon and trout anglers can pick up a bonus walleye from time to time.

The 2013 season also produced solid catch rates for salmon and trout, with the average Lake Huron salmon and trout trip charter trip yielding four lake trout, two Chinook salmon, and one trout or salmon of another species.  Lake Michigan catch rates fell in 2013, with the average salmon and trout trip yielding only slightly more fish than the average Lake Huron trip. The difference was mainly in the catch composition, with Lake Michigan anglers averaging three Chinook salmon, two lake trout, and two trout or salmon of another species per trip in 2013.

If charter customers start catching on to the quality fishing offered in Lake Huron, coastal communities could reap the benefits. Using an economic calculator developed by Michigan Sea Grant, Michigan State University Extension and Michigan State University Center for Economic Analysis in 2009, an estimate of charter fishing economic impacts in 2013 was produced. Over $671,000 in personal income and 54,499 employment hours were generated by Michigan’s charter fishing industry at Lake Huron ports in 2013; with a total economic output was $1.82 million.

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