List of Lake Huron Fish Species 2021 [Updated]
First-time visitors of Lake Huron often remark that they could be looking out into a sea instead of just a lake. This body of freshwater is so large that it is near-impossible to see the opposite shore, even from a high altitude on a clear day. Lake Huron has its own wind and wave patterns, multiple islands (numbering 30,000), and reefs. It is bordered by several US and Canadian cities, with many industries that rely on the stability and productivity of the lake system.
Lake Huron is the second largest of the Great Lakes in terms of surface area. The state border runs through its 23,007 square miles of water, a third of which lies in Michigan. Two-thirds of the area lies in Ontario and features Manitoulin Island, the largest lake island in the world. Huron is hydrologically connected to Lake Michigan by the Straits of Mackinac. This systematically makes them both part of one single enormous lake.
With waters that reach a depth of 230 meters, this huge lake is home to a large amount of aquatic wildlife! From microscopic diatoms to record-holding game fish, it has no shortage of ecologically important species. Millions of pounds worth of fish landings are harvested from the lake each year, supporting commercial fishery demands and sport fishing hobbyists across dozens of states. More than a hundred fish species call the Lake Huron system home. This article will take you through the most popular ones.
List of Fish Species in Lake Huron
1) Lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis)
Lake whitefish is found in all of the Great Lakes. In Huron, it is the most valuable commercial fish and is, unfortunately, dwindling in number due to high demand. This bottom feeder favors zebra and quagga mussels, both invasive species in the lake, along with round gobies, sculpins, and sticklebacks. It prefers cool waters and is frequently caught by anglers in winter. Due to its quality meat and nutritional content, it now makes a frequent appearance on grocery shelves throughout the US and Canada.
Also referred to as Otsego bass, gizzard fish, and common whitefish, this species is distinguished by its overhanging snout, “humpback” appearance, and silver to white coloration. With a distinctly forked tail, it is a fast swimmer. On average, it can grow to a length of 20 inches (50 cm) and weigh 5 pounds (2.3 kg) at maturity.
2) Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush)
Both a prized game fish and a source of lean protein and lipids, lake trout is a valuable species. Population rates in Lake Huron once dipped down to staggeringly low numbers, and, as a result, fisheries regulations were put in place for the purpose of rehabilitation. The establishment of refuges and depth restrictions have allowed self-sustaining populations to recover considerably. Moreover, the application of lampricide has successfully spared many fish from falling to lamprey infestations.
Fortunately, this species’ favorite prey types, which include smelt, minnows, and other small fish, are abundant in Huron. In spring, lake trout move toward the shallow, cool waters of the lake. Once temperatures begin to rise, they retreat to deeper regions, where heavy tackles may be required to fish them out. Lake trout is the largest of all chars and can reach a length of 30 inches (76 cm) on average.
3) Yellow perch (Perca flavescens)
This perciform fish is a common occupant of lake systems from the Arctic to Atlantic regions of North America. They have green to golden yellow-colored bodies, which are slightly elongated. Their spined dorsal fins, along with vertical black stripes, are key identification features. Yellow perch prefer to school close to the shore, in areas with dense patches of aquatic weeds. They are a vital part of the food web, as many predatory fish won’t hesitate to feed on them.
Of all game fish in the US, yellow perch is known for being one of the easiest to catch. It’s remarkably tasty too, which is why demand around the Great Lakes region has always remained high. To meet commercial and sport fishing needs, it has also been introduced into lake systems that lie further west of the continent.
4) Walleye (Sander vitreus)
This phenotypically variable fish is also known as pickerel or yellow pike. It was given the common name, walleye, as a reference to its opaque eyes. This cloudiness is caused by the tapetum lucidum, a pigment layer that allows it to see better in the dark. Due to this visual acuity, it has an advantage when feeding at dusk and during overcast days.
In Lake Huron, walleyes are caught all throughout the year close to the coast of Saginaw Bay. They are most aggressive during summer, when sport fishers can get a kick out of their strong bite. Tributaries around the lake support spawning aggregations with hundreds of thousands of walleyes, making the lake a great destination for fishing them. Limits are still kept in place, however, with a daily bag maximum of five walleyes per angler (as per current regulation).
5) Northern pike (Esox lucius)
Northern pike have markedly elongated bodies and can reach a maximum length of 59 inches (150 cm)! It is one of the largest game fish in North America. This angler favorite is definitely easy to identify, as it has a lengthy snout and fine yellow spots covering an olive-dark green bodice. In lakes, it is often found along cool, rocky areas or in weedy shallows, where it can lie in wait for prey. As an ambush predator, this fish is known for its stealth, speed, and aggression.
Though northern pike have white, mildly tasty flesh, many anglers prefer to release them. This is due to their dominantly bony meat. Quickly and thoroughly de-boning pike is considered quite the skill! Regardless, this fish is every sport fisher’s dream catch as it is known for putting up a fight. The northern regions of Lake Huron, where small archipelagos dot the waters, are known for homing this species.
6) Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
The most numerous of all catfish species in the US, the channel catfish can thrive in all sorts of freshwater systems. It is so popular as a sport and subsistence fish that many aquaculture farms have begun to specialize in its growth. Unfortunately, it has the tendency to become an invasive species wherever it is introduced. Its tolerance for polluted waters and hardiness toward a wide range of conditions have made it an extremely adaptable fish.
Summer is the best time to search for channel catfish in Lake Huron. Large individuals can remain suspended in the open waters of Saginaw Bay. As they approach their spawning season, they tend to migrate upwards along the lake’s shoreline, in a region colloquially referred to as steelhead waters. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across 20-30 pounders. The state record in Michigan is a 40-pound catfish!
7) Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch)
Coho salmon was introduced into Lake Huron in 1966, via smolt stocking in Platte River and Big Manistee River (both tributaries of Lake Michigan). The smolt successfully matured into spawning individuals, and have since then fostered generations of this highly sought-after sporting fish all throughout the Great Lakes. In Huron, coho salmon are opportunistic feeders that forage on smaller, readily available fish. They favor alewives and smelt most.
This species is differentiated from other salmonids by its dark blue dorsal coloration and tail spots, which are restricted to the upper half of the anal rays. It is most frequently caught close to the water’s surface, where it tends to leap repeatedly. As an aggressive sport fish and an eager predator, the coho salmon can take to a wide variety of lures. Its popularity with fishers has encouraged the Michigan DNR to recently re-introduce this species as a move to reinforce Huron’s salmon fishery.
8) White bass (Morone chrysops)
White bass are often found in spring, which is when they mate in lake pools, streams, creeks, and shallow rivers. This silvery-white fish is distinguished by fine dark stripes that run horizontally across its body. On average, it grows to 12 inches (30 cm) but may occasionally reach 15 – 17 inches (38 – 43 cm) in length. It maintains a protein-rich diet by consuming copepods, daphnia, and water fleas. Anglers have successfully caught individuals using live bait, such as minnows and worms.
Populations in Lake Huron frequently gather around its many reefs and sandbars. There are generally no size restrictions for those caught in the Great Lakes, though there are daily catch limits. They are most active during low light periods of the day, so an early morning or evening trip to the lake may increase your chances of successfully luring them.
9) Cisco (Coregonus artedi)
Also commonly known as lake herring, C. artedi is a member of the Salmonidae family. This pelagic fish frequently occurs in median water depths of lakes and may also be found in rivers. It plays a central role in the food chain as it feeds on invertebrates of lower trophic levels, such as insect larvae and zooplankton. Many predatory fish, including burbot, pike, and perch, benefit from its meat. On average, ciscoes grow to 11 – 15 inches (28 – 38 cm) long.
Notable features of this species include a slender body and silvery-pinkish scales. They may be referred to as the “canaries” of cold water due to their decline in low-oxygen and high-temperature pockets of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Fortunately, their populations are now in recovery due to numerous rehabilitation efforts to reduce water stratification and decomposition rates in the lake.
10) Common carp (Cyprinus carpio)
The common carp now has widespread populations in the US, where it is considered an invasive species and a “trash” fish. It has repeatedly been introduced, albeit non-intentionally, into freshwater systems due to its prevalence in the aquaculture and ornamental fish industries. Interestingly, its true wild populations are listed as vulnerable by IUCN. Therefore, those in the Great Lakes have domesticated origins. While the size of this fish is generally limited in artificial systems, those in natural lakes can reportedly grow to 47 inches (119 cm) and can weigh more than 88 pounds (40 kg)!
In Lake Huron, local populations may have originated from artificially stocked populations that were administered by the US Fish Commission. They stocked carp in rivers, with the intention that this would be a food source for rural communities. Today, they have unfortunately become a nuisance as they disturb sediments and compete with other native fish for food.
11) Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens)
It is estimated that there are around 30,000 lake sturgeon individuals in Lake Huron. These gentle giants can grow to 7.25 feet (2.2 meters) long and can weigh as much as 240 pounds (109 kg)! Males are often outlived by females, which have a lifespan of up to 150 years. These seemingly armored fish are practically living fossils as their anatomy has been largely conserved through millennia.
Local researchers have expressed interest in Huron’s lake sturgeon populations for many years. There are ongoing efforts to tag individuals as a means to understand their behavior and population trends. They tend to gather in the southern regions of the Lake, close to the upper reaches of the St. Clair River. Here, their gametes are collected and re-introduced into other regions in the Huron and Erie basins. Because this species is listed as threatened, it is illegal to harvest or catch lake sturgeons without a special permit.
12) Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)
The largest fish in its genus, Chinook or king salmon is prized all throughout its native range for its nutritionally rich meat. It contains high levels of EPA and DHA, omega-3 fatty acids that are known for being beneficial to our cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The diet of this species is largely dependent on its life stage. As juveniles, they prefer to feed on crustaceans and terrestrial insects. In adulthood, Chinook salmon are piscivores with a craving for herring, sandlance, and squid.
As anadromous fish, chinook salmon morphology is variable and is influenced by the conditions of their environment. They are radically darker in color during their freshwater stage. Lake Huron and its tributaries are simply stations in its migration pathway, until it finds an adequate location to spawn. It requires clean, highly oxygenated, and cool waters to successfully reproduce.
13) Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
Rainbow trout is the most common trout species in Lake Huron. Anglers from all over the US visit the lake each year to catch this fantastic fish, which the locals may fondly refer to as steelhead. The best areas to test your luck are the river mouths of Saginaw and Saugeen River. Spring is an ideal time of year to fish for them along the heavily forested parts of the lake basin. In Lake Huron, the daily catch limit is just 5 fish. The use of live bait, situated close to the thermocline at dusk, has been effective for many sport fishers.
Among all salmonids, rainbow trout is undeniably one of the most attractive. Its metallic hues may vary among subspecies, but all adults will typically be covered in dark spots. Breeding males are distinguished by a subtle to pronounced red stripe along their lateral lines. Juveniles usually have parr marks, or thick vertical stripes that are common to young salmonids.
14) Deepwater sculpin (Myoxocephalus thompsonii)
Like many deepwater fish, M. thompsonii is a poorly known fish with a unique morphology. It was once considered extinct in some of the great lakes, but has now been rediscovered throughout its native range. In Canada, this species is listed under the Species at Risk Act due to its vulnerability to lake pollution. In some U.S. states, it is considered endangered. It favors low temperatures (<5˚C) and highly oxygenated, clean water. Those found in Lake Huron tend to remain at depths of 60 – 150 meters (196 – 492 feet).
Deepwater sculpins feed on small crustaceans and zooplankton that are found in open water. Much is still unknown about their spawning habits and population sizes, in part due to their depth preferences. Researchers have speculated on potential reasons for their decline. These include competition with rainbow smelt and alewives, which unfortunately feed on sculpin eggs and larvae.
15) Rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax)
Rainbow smelt eggs were introduced into the Great Lakes in 1912. They rapidly took to the watershed system, making their way to other regions of North America through thousands of tributaries. This anadromous species spawns during spring in clean streams with a mild current. Unfortunately, they are weak swimmers and can seldom make it through fish ladders in dams. In part, this significantly reduced their populations toward the end of the last century.
This cylindrical species is markedly slender. On average, it grows to a length of 7 – 9 inches (17.8 – 22.8 cm). It is distinguished by its iridescent pink to purple coloration. Despite its small size, rainbow smelt is popular with commercial fishers and anglers. It is traditionally fished for during winter or spring.
16) Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)
Salmo salar is the third-largest salmonid. Though typically anadromous, it now has subpopulations that are fully landlocked. It is highly sought-after all around the world and is now a major aquaculture species along the coasts of eastern North America and Western Europe. Its meat is highly valued as it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources introduces thousands of smolts into Lake Huron each year, reinforcing populations. In spring, this species prefers to stay close to the lake’s shoreline. As temperatures rise, it retreats to deeper parts of the lake. It approaches the upper layers once more just before the spawning period begins in fall. This game fish appeals to anglers because of its tendency to fight and leap.
17) Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha)
Pink salmon are also frequently referred to as humpback salmon or “humpies”. Mature males develop a pronounced hump on their backs every spawning season. This anadromous species changes in color depending on fertility and location. Those that migrate upstream to spawn become grey to green. Those in ocean waters, as indicated by the common name, are blush-colored. The smallest among Pacific salmon, O. gorbuscha grows to a maximum length of 30 inches (86˚F).
With a preference for temperatures ranging from 5 – 14˚C (41 – 57˚F), pink salmon prefer to stay in the cooler parts of Lake Huron. They are rarely fished by anglers within the basin proper, but are occasionally caught in streams along the lake’s northern reaches.
18) Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
This aggressive fish is an angler favorite. You can count on it being on the wish list of almost every sport fisher that visits the Great Lakes. Though it is a powerful swimmer, it can be remarkably stealthy as well. The smallmouth bass tends to ambush its prey. It usually hides in wait among rocks and weeds, with which it camouflages. Its coloration is influenced by habitat features. Those in rivers and darkly stained waters tend to be brown to black, whereas those located close to lake shorelines may be yellowish.
The smallmouth bass is partial to cool, clean water. Thriving populations are indicators of a healthy ecosystem and relatively pristine environment. They are found in several ports, rivers, and bays in Lake Huron through spring and summer. With visibility that extends to 30 feet (9 meters) on calm days, anglers may be lucky enough to spot big game lurking in vegetation.
19) Burbot (Lota lota)
Lota lota is the only species under its genus and is the only freshwater gadiform. Gadiformes (e.g. cod, cusk, haddock) are ray-finned species that typically occur in marine waters. The humble burbot has a peculiar morphology. It looks like a catfish, eel, and serpent all-in-one! It also has relatively soft and small fins, indicating that its body is built to have a benthic rather than pelagic lifestyle.
Burbot are most active during twilight, which is when it feeds on invertebrates close to or on the lake floor. Large adults are able to prey on whitefish, trout, lamprey, and perch. It is an edible fish, and the taste of its meat has been likened to that of lobster. Its liver has highly potent levels of vitamins A and D, rivalling premium-grade cod liver oil.
20) Brown trout (Salmo trutta)
Brown trout weren’t always common sporting fish in the Great Lakes. They were introduced into Michigan and the surrounding areas in the 1880s. They quickly became naturalized in this region, turning it into a mecca for trout fishing. Lake populations have to frequently be replenished with stocked fish, however, as existing populations may fail to meet current demands.
This fish requires cool temperatures and high dissolved oxygen levels all year round. Global climate change has many local biologists looking into wild trout communities. Males tend to die just after spawning, and a considerable percentage of females are unlikely to recover from the energetic demands. It’s vital that anglers adhere to daily catch limits and restrictions on size.
21) Emerald shiner (Notropis atherinoides)
Emerald shiners are tiny schooling fish that maintain a demersal habit. This means that they are most active in the water column layer that is close to the lake floor. They favor shallow bodies of freshwater and thrive best in warm temperatures (around 25˚C). As planktivores, they play a vital role in the food chain by facilitating the transfer of energy from microscopic to higher life forms. They may also feed on aquatic insects, algae, and plant debris at the water’s surface.
Shiners are actually a type of minnow. They are preyed upon by many game fish in Lake Huron. It is estimated that there is approx. 0.5 kg (1 pound) worth of emerald shiners per hectare of space in the lake’s main basin. In terms of biomass, this exceeds that contributed by either the invasive alewife or rainbow smelt, other small fish species. Anglers occasionally use shiners as live bait because they grow to just 9 – 12.5 cm (3 – 4.5 inches) at maturity.
22) Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus)
Alewife is a type of herring that is known for invading the Great Lakes, especially Huron and Michigan. Its zooplankton-rich diet overlaps those of many native freshwater species. Biological control methods, such as increased stocking rates of predatory fish, have been used to control its spread. It is an anadromous fish, with its adult phases taking place in marine environments. Due to its introduction to landlocked areas, there are subpopulations that maintain a wholly freshwater-based life history.
Today, wild alewife populations appear to be in decline across the US. This is likely due to habitat loss and degradation, dam construction, and fishing. Despite its threat potential (when populations aren’t kept in check), it is considered a Species of Concern by the US National Marine Species Service.
23) Bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus)
Also known as bream, copper nose, or sunny, bluegill sunfish are fairly omnipresent in the Great Lakes. Here, they serve as highly agreeable prey items to many predatory game fish. They favor warm temperatures in shallow pools with many features, such as rocks and vegetation. As schooling fish, they mask themselves in suspended weeds or may hide in decomposing logs.
If specifically searching for bluegill sunfish in Lake Huron, make sure to visit Les Cheneaux Islands. The best time to fish for them is early to mid-summer. Populations are usually associated with those of pumpkinseed sunfish, rock bass, and ciscoes.
24) Sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus)
The sea lamprey is one of the worst non-native species to invade the Great Lakes watershed system. This parasitic fish uses its sucker-like mouth, filled with circular rows of teeth, to latch onto larger fish. For this reason, they may also be referred to as “vampire fish”! To feed, they secrete an enzyme that prevents fish blood from clotting. Victimized fish are left with gaping wounds that easily become infected, invariably leading to death.
The rise of sea lamprey populations has inversely affected salmon, whitefish, trout, walleye, burbot, and cisco populations in Lake Huron. Efforts to limit the spread of this species have effectively reduced their numbers, though full elimination is known to be impossible. Anglers that catch fish plagued by sea lampreys are advised to carefully remove the parasites, kill them, and then toss them in the bin!