If Michiganders had to pick one defining feature of their state, it probably wouldn’t be cars, or sports teams, or even a city. It’d be the lakes. Here in the Mitten, about one-fifth of the world’s fresh water and 11,000 miles of shoreline are, at most, a short day trip from your front door. There’s no way around it – this is the Great Lakes State.
Carved from the hands of ancient glaciers, Michigan’s plentiful lakes offer dramatic, sweeping views, a hypnotic mix of deep blue waves, rolling sand dunes, sheer cliffs, multiple states and even Canada. Oh, and over 200 species of delicious fresh fish, too.
Rest assured. If there’s so much as a trickle of a creek somewhere in Michigan, some old guy in galoshes is dutifully fishing it. Pike, walleye, bass, smelt, carp, perch, salmon, herring, trout, sturgeon – you want it, we’ve got it coming out of our proverbial asses.
Here are just a few of the characters that populate our lakes:
Lake Whitefish, Coregonus Clupeaformis
Here in Michigan, we love whitefish so much we named a large bay up north after it, and in proud carnivorous tradition, we’ve eaten it to near extinction multiple times. A light, delicately flavored fish with soft, flaky flesh that practically melts in your mouth, the whitefish’s main problem in life, it seems, is that it’s too damn easy to catch.
Not that you’re guaranteed to reel one if you hit one of the our lakes. Except for a brief spawning season in early winter, when this silvery, green-backed delicacy hits the shallow waters to reproduce like drunk spring breakers, whitefish like to hang out in schools far below the surface, where commercial operations routinely haul the prized fish in from in prodigious quantities. So while you might not have a trouble catching one at the dinner table, unless you’re truly gifted angler, you’re gonna need a lil’ help from lady luck if you wanna reel in one of these nice-sized babies.
Round Goby, Neogobius Melanostomus
An average round goby is maybe 8 inches long and weighs only an ounce or two, but this mottled chubster plays an outsized role in the Great Lakes ecosystem. An invasive species, gobies first snuck into the St. Clair River in the 1990s in freighter ballasts, tanks of water used to help weigh down the large trading vessels that regularly ply our waters. As ships from Europe dumped unfiltered ballast water near our shores to maintain stability, out came the gobies to feast on native snails and mollusks, and soon enough you couldn’t go to the beach without getting a couple gobies stuck under your flip-flops.
Gobies took a particular liking to zebra mussels, yet another invasive species introduced to our lakes by dirty Euro ballasts. Which was, initially, sort of a good thing. Except, of course, that zebra mussels suck up toxins faster than a Kardashian, and gobies are like movie popcorn to our state’s big game fish. Consume the catch o’ the day now and you’re served up a heaping side of health warnings by the ol’ DNR.
You can thank the gobies for that.
Rainbow Smelt, Osmerus Mordax
Like the goby, rainbow smelt aren’t native to Michigan, but were introduced intentionally as a game fish in 1912 near Traverse City – intentionally being the key word here. A small but sleek fish, bullet-like in appearance, smelt are essentially the round goby if it was sexy and wanted.
A cool fish both figuratively and literally, smelt love cold water. So naturally, Michigan’s northern lakes were a great fit, long renowned for the ability to turn the biggest of human testicles into pea-like anomalies all year long. It’s basically smelt paradise.
The easiest time to catch smelt is in the spring, when the fish makes nocturnal spawning runs up nearby rivers. Any idiot with a net, a beer bottle, and a pulse can nab a few. Just watch out for the roe. It’s slimy.
Stay tuned for more Michigan fish at a random date, as dictated by the arbitrary whims of the author!