SHEBOYGAN - There is growing evidence that lake trout are making a comeback in Lake Michigan.
The feds have been stocking the lake with trout for decades. Now, biologists say the fish are reproducing on their own.
Dale Hanson is looking for what he calls the perfect lake trout. The fisheries biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting a survey in Lake Michigan. Nearly a mile of nylon netting is set about two miles off the Sheboygan shore.
"Most of the lake trout out in the lake right now, they do have fin clips, that indicates they were stocked from a hatchery," said Dale Hanson, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service fisheries biologist.
Hanson says in the last 50 years, 125 million lake trout have been stocked into Lake Michigan.
Hanson says lamprey eels, zebra mussels and little fish called alewives have hurt the lake trout. Hanson says salmon have gobbled up many of the alewives, and the lake trout have started to reproduce on their own.
"Right now, in areas of the lake, we're seeing roughly 20 percent of the fish are unclipped, but that is by no means observed on a lake-wide basis," said Hanson.
On Tuesday, on the last net, "here we have our first unclipped lake trout we captured today," said Hanson.
Hanson says the fish will need to be tested further, but even one fish out of 33 is good.
"It's still early in the game, but at least we have some encouraging signs to work with here," said Hanson.
And those who make their living off the lake say they notice the change.
"Today on my trip, I caught five of them. Looks like there's a combination of the naturally occurring lake trout, and the lake trout that have been stocked," said Rick Riemer, Dumper Dan's Charter boat captain.
At Dumper Dan's Charters, captain Rick Riemer says six boats made 1,300 trips last year and caught 14,000 salmon and trout.
"It's always great to come back with a full box of fish," said Hanson.
A full-finned phenomenon. Biologists say it's quite a fish story.
That is indicative that these fish have spawned in the lake, and that is something that hasn't happened consistently in a 50-60 year period," said Hanson.
Biologists say the spring survey will wrap up in a couple of weeks.
The fish caught Tuesday will be donated to Paul's Pantry in Green Bay.
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