Master Anglers earn bragging rights in Michigan

How big are Michigan’s popular gamefish? One program reveals the answer.

Called the Master Angler program, it keeps records of the largest fish, by species, caught in the state’s waters each year. Fish that seem to be a “wallhanger” class caught by an angler are taken to a place with certified scales and checked for weight, size and species. This information is checked against the minimum size and weight required to be eligible for Master Angler status, and recorded. The lucky fisherman is given a certificate to prove his record catch for the year.

This program has been around for several decades and one thing has been noted. Catches are getting bigger in the minimum entry size and weights, a sign that in spite of some of the hazards to fisheries brought by foreign invasive species entering the Great Lakes, pollution and weather’s fickle feast or famine drought or floods, Michigan’s sport fisheries continue to thrive and produce new Master Anglers records ever year.

The latest round of winners included:

  • 33 Chinook salmon awarded Master Angler status in 2011 compared to three in 2010.
  • 13 Master Angler Coho salmon caught in 2011, compared to just one in 2010.

Originally in the Master Angler program, created in 1973, fish were judged solely on weight.

As catch-and-release fishing caught on with the angling public the DNR began offering Master Angler status to fish based on length, too. The catch and release category now recognizes significantly more anglers and fish each year than the traditional catch and keep category.

The heaviest Chinook salmon entered in the program in 2011 was a 37.06 pound behemoth caught by Richard Schulte on Aug. 23. Schulte’s Chinook was one of five kings in the catch and keep category that bested 30 pounds.

In the catch and release category, Craig Morton of Westlake, La., submitted a fish that measured 43.13 inches. Morton took his fish Sept. 30 while fly fishing on the Manistee River. Interestingly enough, all five fish in the catch and release category were caught in rivers, two in the Manistee, two in the Pere Marquette and one in the Muskegon. In the keep category, only two came from rivers, though one was also caught inland, in Pere Marquette Lake.

As for Coho, the largest fish kept, a 14.06 pounder take on a spoon in Lake Michigan, was caught by Matthew Kemmerer of St. Louis, Mo. Only one of the 12 in the category was taken inland, a 12.94 pound specimen taken in Manistee Lake.

The only Master Angler Coho in the catch-and-release category was a 32.38 inch fish taken by Shirley Brock of Canton in the Pere Marquette River.

Aside from salmon in the Lake Michigan watershed, 2011 was just an average year for big fish in Michigan. There were no state records established and the number of Master Angler fish was down overall from the previous year.

Brook trout ran big in 2011, too. The DNR recognized eight, twice as many as in 2010, in the keep category, the largest a 3.06 pounder taken by Walter Tuccini of Marquette from Roland Lake in Baraga County.

Among released fish, Marvin Ruhinen of Gwinn set the standard with an 18 incher taken from Strawberry Lake in Marquette County on a Sidewinder.

The biggest kept muskie was a 33.5 pound, 49.75 inch fish from Burt Lake. The longest released muskie was a 55 incher caught by Charles Hazel of Wolverine Lake from the Detroit River.

The heaviest largemouth bass entered in the keep category was taken from Wabasis Lake in Kent County on a topwater lure. The heaviest smallmouth bass submitted in the keep category came from Burt Lake; the longest Master Angler smallmouth in the release category was taken by Hannah Douglas of Allendale for a 27.13 incher from Muskegon Lake.

All in all, the Master Angler program shows that those wanting to catch a “braggin’rights” fish don’t have to travel far to find one right here in Michigan.