Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Let’s get to know…The Mackinaw (Or Lake Trout)

How cool are fish? Each species is different and has biological differences that control so much about where they live and why. Knowing these facts will help dial in the location and patterns of the fish you seek to catch. Fish identification is just the start. Learning the biological aspects helps us catch and preserve this amazing natural creature. Please bare with me and my poindexter excerpts of “Let’s get to know…”.

Let’s get to know The Mackinaw (Or Lake Trout)

One of the largest trout species in North America is the Mackinaw or Lake Trout as it is commonly called. This species of fish is actually a member of the char family and can reach upwards of 50lbs in Colorado. The state record being set in 2007 by D. Walker at 50.35lbs and 44.25 inches in length (Blue Mesa). How impressive is that?

Physical Attributes:

A deeply forked tail is the first distinguishing mark. The overall coloring is dark silver with light spots. The fins will have a narrow white line similar to brook trout but not as defined.

In Colorado lake trout prefer deep, clear water with average water temperatures of 50 degrees and will die in water temperatures over 75 degrees. These fish feed on most anything and can have a wide-ranging diet including their own species. In large lakes the lake trout will prefer to feed on other fish as where in the northern territory rivers and streams the lake trout will rely more on insects and crustaceans as that is what is more available.

Lake trout spawn in fall and normally reproduce every second year from September to November in most parts of their range. This species prefers to spawn on rock structure in close proximity to the shoreline depending on conditions. Females typically release 1600-3600 eggs per pound. Eggs hatch within four to five months depending on conditions. Light and wind factors play a large part in lake trout spawning. Lake trout don’t form mating pairs or construct redds like other salmonids. Eggs may be fertilized by one or more males and when they hatch the fish have to absorb the yolk sack for several weeks before fully emerging. Then the tiny buggers have to reach the water surface to fill their swim bladders before diving down to deeper, cooler waters.

The lake trout are one species of fish that is greatly controlled by water temperature. These fish will favor specific depths that relate directly to the water temperature of that area. Lake trout will move up and down the vertical spectrum feeding in the water with the ideal temperature in the shallowest water they can tolerate. Preferring colder temps, the macks don’t generally move into shallower water until late fall.

No love for trophy Mack fishing in Colorado

(Above: Image borrowed from AP Source\Colorado Division of Wildlife promotional material. Matt Smiley and a few other folks were chasing these big bad boys out at Blue Mesa 2005-2008. Records were being broken twice a year on this species over 50lbs.)

The regulations and management for the lake trout in Colorado is pretty lenient on the take side. In waters where Kokanee and rainbow trout may be favored there are no limits on size or number of fish and anglers are encouraged to keep all lake trout they catch. This management is meant to keep the lake trout viable in the system without displacing the other species. But this is not a very controlled method and results may vary greatly to one side or the other. It also does little to safeguard or promote a trophy mack population. Compounded with sponsored lake trout ice fishing tournaments and netting during spawning seasons, the deck is stacked heavily against this species. Big predator fish spark a lot of controversy in Colorado and there are good arguments on both sides of the fence. Hopefully anglers and officials can meet in the middle and safeguard a few places for big macs.

Some crazy cool facts about Mackinaw trout:

Lake trout are negatively phototropic; they avoid light.

Lake trout spawn at night.

Lake trout may not spawn every year, and northerly stocks tend to have fewer spawning fish in any one year. This is thought to be a function of photoperiod, shorter growing season, less abundant food, and the unproductive nature of many northern lakes.

In large bodies of water such as the Great Lakes, lake trout may migrate up to 300 km (186 mi) to their spawning grounds.

Lake trout scales are unreliable for aging purposes because the annuli cannot be distinguished. Researchers determine age by reading otoliths, which are calcified tissues of the inner ear used by fish for maintaining equilibrium and balance. The oldest fish on record, taken in the Northwest Territories, was aged at 65 years.

Female lake trout are crossed with male speckled trout to produce a fish known as splake, in a process called artificial hybridization. Hatcheries produce splake because this hybrid grows very quickly.

Good luck and Good Fishing

Acknowledgements and references below:






BeMistified said...

OMG this fish is just awesome! I ♥ the colors, for silver and black are 2 of my favs. Thank you for sharing.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

WOW, that fish is beautiful... btw was this one a keeper? I can't believe trout get to be that big.

SweetiePea said...

I had no idea that they could get that large. You know, I used to think all fish were created equal. But everytime you make one of these posts it opens my eyes a little furher to the fact each species truly is different, special and useful to its environment.

sage said...

Wow, what a fish! I always thought Lake Trout were big rainbows... I've caught them at 6-8 pounds in Lake Michigan and two years ago, one of the guys in our group caught a large one in a lake in the Quetico (Canada) and it was enough to feed 6 of us for dinner.

Razzle Dazzle said...

Great post.
Lake Trout are caught regularly here on Lake Champlain. I don't often target them but have caught some in the ten pound class.

Anonymous said...

The CDOW doesn't have a leg to stand on about their bias against large predator fish. Sure pike eat quite a few trout, and lake trout eat lots of kokanee, but rarely do they do massive damage to a fishery. The best regulations would be encouraging keeping a moderate amount of SMALL pike and lake trout, and protecting the larger speciments. Large lake trout and pike keep the population from getting out of control because they are cannibalistic. The Blue Mesa controversy is simply a matter of CDOW lies and fraud, because they koke decline is largely because of poaching, the cyclic nature of the fish, and an excess number of SMALL mackinaw. The rebound of kokes this summer proves their cyclic nature and due to the fact that this year's kokes were in the system BEFORE lake trout removals, show factually that it is not numbers of large lake trout that decimate kokes, but other factors. Large lake trout take MANY YEARS to replace, while kokes come back quickly. Scientifically and morally the CDOW needs to stop killing our big fish. Most people oppose it.

Coloradocasters said...

@Anonymous: Thanks for the comment. I agree a lot with what you have said and the CDOW, I mean State Parks and Wildlife has recently released a statement in regards to this that states: 1,333 lake trout were removed this year and 1,298 of those fish were under 30-inches. 35 fish that measured from 30 to 38” were removed. Five fish that measured more than 38” were released.

Even though I may be skeptical of these numbers, unfortunately I cannot confirm or deny what is really going on out there. This may be a crucial element in this argument (as well as full disclosure on my part) along with exactly how long this program is intended to run. If these numbers are true it is something I could live and we continue to monitor the progam. In this fight the mackinaw is labeled the bully with Kokanee in the corner all tasty and fragile. Guess a lot of people like 20-fish limits of Kokanee all year round. I don’t make the rules but understand they have to run it like a business sometimes. The mack will indeed fight its way back to trophy fish status if given the chance.