Published March 18, 2012, 12:00 AM

A brief history of trout and salmon in Minnesota waters of Lake Superior

Species: Lake trout Stocking initiated: 1962

By: Source: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Duluth News Tribune

Species: Lake trout

Stocking initiated: 1962

Stocking update: Stocking continues at 170,000 yearlings per year in Zone MN-1 (nearest Duluth). Stocking has ended in the remainder of Minnesota waters, where the lake trout population is self-sustaining through natural reproduction.

Overview: Lake trout are native to Lake Superior and were historically the top predator. After being decimated by commercial fishing and sea lampreys in the 1950s and 1960s, the lake trout population has been successfully rehabilitated in most of Minnesota’s waters. Lake trout now represent 70 to 80 percent of the total catch in Minnesota waters of Lake Superior. Evaluation of stocking in MN-1 is being monitored, and further stocking reductions may occur, DNR officials say.

Species: Chinook (king) salmon

Stocking initiated: 1974

Stocking ceased: 2006

Overview: Minnesota’s Chinook program peaked in the mid-1980s when fewer lake trout were present in the lake. Smelt were plentiful through that time, and Chinooks grew to more than 30 pounds. Eventually, returns to North Shore streams dwindled as the lake trout population rebounded. Natural reproduction from other states and Ontario is now responsible for the majority of Chinooks caught lakewide. Average size is now 5 to 8 pounds.

Species: Coho salmon

Stocking initiated: 1969

Stocking ceased: 1972

Overview: Stocking was ended because coho salmon did not meet management goals, according to the Lake Superior Fishery Management Plan. The fish are still present in the lake and provide an important fishery at certain times of year. Cohos now are naturalized throughout the lake, reproducing on their own in other states and Ontario.

Species: Pink salmon

First introduced: Although never stocked in Minnesota, pink salmon were introduced in 1956 to the Current River in Ontario

Overview: Now naturalized in the lake, pink salmon exist in small numbers and can be caught during the fall in North Shore streams. They provide a limited fall fishery.

Species: Steelhead (rainbow trout)

First introduced: From the West Coast, to Lake Superior in 1895

Stocking initiated: Various methods of stocking have been tried from the 1970s on to bolster the natural population.

Stocking updated: Currently, 500,000 steelhead fry, raised from brood stock at the French River Hatchery, are stocked in several North Shore streams.

Overview: After being introduced, steelhead became naturalized, reproducing on their own in Lake Superior. In Minnesota, the population declined through the 1980s, and that decline was reversed in the mid-1990s when restrictive harvest regulations were put in place. Catch rates continue to increase, although spring spawning runs are thought not to be as strong as in the 1950s and 1960s. Anglers catch steelhead up to 28 or 30 inches long in North Shore streams but must release all fish.

Species: Kamloops rainbow trout

Stocking initiated: 1976

Stocking update: About 92,500 Kamloops yearlings are stocked annually in the Lester and French Rivers and at McQuade Small Craft Harbor.

Overview: Originally introduced to supplement steelhead stocks, Kamloops rainbows have provided a fall-through-spring fishery for shore anglers along the North Shore near Duluth. A recent shift in rearing of some Kamloops rainbows at the Spire Valley Hatchery near Remer instead of at the French River Hatchery near Duluth has some anglers concerned about diminishing future returns. The program provides a popular local fishery for fish of 4 to 8 pounds. Anglers may keep up to three fish with a minimum size of 16 inches.

Species: Brook trout

Stocking initiated: Direct stocking in Lake Superior began in the 1970s but met with little success

Stocking ceased: Minnesota ceased stocking in 1987 but the Grand Portage Indian Reservation has continued an experimental stocking program begun in 1992.

Overview: Native to Lake Superior, so-called “coaster” brook trout occurred near shore but were rapidly depleted starting in the 1880s by overfishing and the effects of logging. Some coaster brook trout remain in the lake supporting a limited fishery.

Species: Brown trout

Introduced: 1890s lakewide

Stocking history: Experimental stocking from 1985 to 1987 in St. Louis River; unsuccessful

Overview: Brown trout from limited natural reproduction are occasionally caught in Minnesota waters of Lake Superior.

Species: Atlantic salmon

Stocking initiated: 1980

Stocking ceased: 1993

Overview: Poor returns to anglers, and low angler interest due to late season returns (November) prompted the DNR to re-evaluate the Atlantic salmon program in 1990. Stocking was discontinued in 1993 because of concerns over a declining forage base, the number of non-native predators in the lake, limited angling interest (although a small number of anglers were passionate about Atlantics) and high cost of the hatchery program.