The Evolution of Salmon and Trout Fishing in Lake Michigan: From Native American Traditions to Modern-Day Sport Fishing

Lake Michigan has an interesting history when it comes to trout and salmon fishing. We can trace the history of salmon and trout fishing from early Native American fishing traditions to ecological disaster with the dwindling of the trout population to modern day sport and recreational fishing. This rich history gives us a better understanding of the growth of sport fishing in Lake Michigan, leading to the birth of fishing charter companies like Jack’s Charter Fishing

Native American Fishing Traditions 

Before the arrival of Europeans, Native American fisheries were well established in the Great Lakes area. Areas in and around Lake Michigan were regularly fished by Native Americans using a variety of techniques such as spearing, angling, and netting. During this time, fishing was an integral part of the culture, providing them with food as well as a means of trading with other tribes around the Great Lakes area. Over time, many tribes settled down in prolific fishing areas, creating settlements. These early settlements became some of the first local fishing villages and even developed into the large lakefront cities we see today. This was the start of the growing fishing industry in Lake Michigan.

Growth of Fishing Industry, Decline of Trout Population

As fishing settlements popped up around Lake Michigan, the fishing industry rapidly grew. With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, the Great Lakes fishing industry boomed. The Erie Canal made it possible for fisheries to ship salted fish to the east coast, leading to a higher demand from the Lake Michigan fishing industry. This, of course, meant developing more fisheries and more boats to hunt and harvest the fish to meet higher and higher demands.

By the 1950’s, overharvesting had annihilated virtually all species in Lake Michigan. To make matters worse, the accidental introduction of sea lampreys and alewife created an ecological disaster within the lake. Having no natural predators in Lake Michigan, lampreys devastated the existing large fish populations, particularly trout. The alewife thrived in the deep lake and reproduced at an alarming rate, completely throwing off the ecosystem of Lake Michigan. Combined with overharvesting, the lampreys and alewife obliterated the trout population causing the fishing industry to suffer.

That’s when salmon were introduced to Lake Michigan. In 1966, the state of Michigan began to release coho salmon as the solution to the alewife problem. Although not native to the Great Lakes, coho were efficient predators that fed off the alewife. Coho were easily grown in hatcheries, grew quickly in the wild, and, coincidentally, were an excellent sport fishing species. This made salmon the simple solution for rebalancing Lake Michigan’s ecological scales, and it worked! By the 1970s, the alewife population had all but vanished bringing with it a rise in the native species populations for the first time in two decades. 

The Dawn of Sport & Charter Fishing

With the introduction of salmon in Lake Michigan and the natural increase in trout population as a result, there came a rise in sport fishing in the 1970s. Plenty of salmon and trout meant anglers from all over the Great Lakes area were looking for their chance to reel in their own big sport fish. This demand for sport fishing led to a boom in fishing charter companies, like Jack’s Charter Fishing, which started to pop up all along Lake Michigan. These charters offered visitors a chance to reel in the challenging salmon and lake trout under the guidance of professional captains. Now, thanks to the salmon that brought balance to Lake Michigan’s fishing industry, anyone can enjoy the fun of a Lake Michigan fishing charter at Jack’s Charter Fishing and experience the challenge of reeling in fish worth bragging about!