Fishing for coho salmon heating up on Lake Michigan

As Michigan inches toward spring, anglers may want to plan an outing to target coho salmon in Lake Michigan. This lake’s coho season is open all year but activity really starts to pick up this month.

Coho salmon have a pretty consistent migration pattern every year, starting in the southern portion of Lake Michigan and moving north into New Buffalo, St. Joseph, South Haven and sometimes Muskegon before they cross the width of the lake for much of the summer.

In 2016, anglers who ventured out into 200 feet of water, which can be more than 10 miles offshore from most ports, found coho feeding on shrimp-like species called mysis. Mysis populations appear to be doing well in this deeper water, and coho respond favorably when feeding on this nutrient-rich food source.

“Anglers were seeing this shrimp-like food in the stomachs of coho in 2016 while fishing in deeper water in the spring,” said Jay Wesley, the DNR’s Lake Michigan Basin coordinator. “We thought that was a warning sign that there wasn’t enough prey fish in the shallows, which would have brought them nearshore – but we are already getting reports this year that anglers are catching their limits in a short period of time when fishing these deep waters. It seems coho salmon are capitalizing on this food source until warmer water shows up nearshore.”

Normally, coho salmon will feed in 5 to 30 feet of water during the spring, and then will follow baitfish as the water warms.

According to angler data collected by DNR creel clerks, coho harvest on Lake Michigan was 25 percent higher in 2016 than it was in 2015. Harvest is projected to be just as good, if not better, in 2017.

“During our coho salmon egg-take efforts in 2016 we had more than 20,000 mature fish return for spawning – many of which were young males,” Wesley said. “Typically, when we see a strong return like that the following year’s fishery is usually very good.”

Those considering heading out may want to use orange spoons or plug baits fished behind planner boards in shallow water or with down riggers or snap weights in 50 to 80 feet of water.

The DNR plans to stock 1.5 million coho salmon in Lake Michigan this spring. This lake is home to an extremely diverse fishery – stay tuned throughout 2017 as the DNR highlights other opportunities that become available.

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