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The Rich Fish Population of the Apostle Islands

From lake trout to spoonhead sculpin, discover the diverse and complex fish community thriving in the waters of the Apostle Islands.

The Great Lakes region is home to a diverse range of fish species, many of which can be found in the waters around the Apostle Islands. These include commercially and recreationally important species like lake trout, whitefish, lake sturgeon, and smallmouth bass, as well as lesser-known species like spoonhead sculpin, trout-perch, and Johnny Darter.


For centuries, these fish have played a vital role in the lives of the people who call the Great Lakes region home. Native Americans and fur trappers relied on fish for both sustenance and trade, and in the 1870s and 1880s, commercial fishing became a major industry in the area. However, decades of heavy fishing pressure and habitat degradation from forestry and agriculture had a detrimental effect on fish populations. In the 1890s, the whitefish population experienced a significant decline, leading fishermen to turn to lake trout and herring instead.


The arrival of the sea lamprey, a parasitic species, in the 1950s was a devastating blow to Great Lakes fisheries. The sea lamprey caused significant damage to native fish populations in the lower Great Lakes and had a major impact on lake trout and whitefish stocks in Lake Superior. Despite this, intensive control efforts by the US and Canadian governments managed to minimize the sea lamprey's impact on the lake and some fish populations have since recovered.


When the Apostle Island National Lakeshore was established in 1970, some fish populations were at historically low levels. The establishment of refuges at Gull and Devils Island shoals in 1976 and 1981 helped to protect and restore lake trout populations, and these efforts have been successful in increasing lake whitefish production and recruitment in the surrounding area. Today, lake trout and whitefish maintain viable populations in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior and support important commercial and recreational fisheries throughout the Apostle Islands region.


To ensure the long-term sustainability of these fisheries, limits on recreational and commercial harvest are in place, and monitoring efforts are ongoing. The management of these fisheries is a collaborative effort involving multiple organizations, including the Lake Superior Technical Committee of the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, which brings together representatives from states, provinces, tribes, and federal agencies to provide technical information and make informed decisions about the management of fish stocks in the area.


The Apostle Islands are a paradise for fishermen, offering a variety of species to catch including Lake Trout, Brown Trout, Brook Trout, Rainbow Trout, and Coho Salmon. To fish in the park, a Wisconsin fishing license and Great Lakes trout/salmon stamp are required. It's important to be aware of changing weather conditions on Lake Superior, which can be unpredictable with cold temperatures, rough seas, fog, and sudden squalls. Boaters should consult marine forecasts before setting out, and listen for updates on marine channel 7, 162.525 MHz.


In the spring season, which runs from ice-out to late May/early June, the best fishing can be found in the shallow waters near shore, where trout and salmon are attracted to the warmer temperatures. Popular areas include the north side of Long Island, as well as the shorelines of Basswood, Hermit, and Oak Islands. Steelhead (Rainbow) Trout and Rainbow Smelt also contribute to the good fishing at this time.


During the summer season, which runs from mid-June to August, fishing moves to deeper waters in search of Lake Trout. Trolling is a popular and successful method for catching these fish, and popular areas include the "sportfishing only" zone between Madeline and Long Islands, as well as the waters around Sand and Eagle Islands. It's important to avoid approaching within 500 feet of Eagle Island, as it is home to nesting birds that should not be disturbed.


In the fall season, from September to November, fishing returns to the shallow waters near shore as trout and salmon return for their spawning runs. Good areas for fishing include those listed for the spring season, as well as the rivers mentioned above. Overall, there are plenty of opportunities for a successful fishing trip in the Apostle Islands, with a wide range of species and methods to choose from.

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