Excitement of spawning fish

Michigan State University-Extension

Bass spawn in late spring or early summer. The catch-and-immediate-release season for bass is year-round in Michigan. This year’s catch-and-keep season opens May 27.

Spring is a time of transition on the landscape in Michigan with weather, new growth and numerous animals showing outwards signs of this change.

Below the surface of many Michigan lakes, rivers and streams is the spawning of numerous fish species throughout the state. Serious fishermen are in tune with this annual phenomenon, but many folks are unaware of the “run” or are under informed. This is an excellent opportunity to introduce youth the pursuit of fishing, an exciting phenology event and help them understand the circle of life.

Spawning times vary by weather, water temperature, daylight and other factors. The majority of fish spawning takes place in spring and early summer. These are mostly warmwater species of fish, some of which includes walleye, bass, suckers, catfish and species collectively referred to as panfish. Some coldwater fish also spawn in spring such as rainbow trout (steelhead) but most are fall spawners.

Female fish are typically larger than males due to the amount of roe they contain. The ritual for spawning varies between species, but typically one or both gender of fish will build a nest or redd. The female will then deposit eggs and the male will fertilize the eggs with “milt.”

Some species then abandon the nest (northern, walleye) while others have one of the two species guard the nest (bass) until the fish are hatched.

Youth can have a particularly interesting and exciting time researching and investigating the various spawning behaviors of different fish. Of course, researching local fish from their geographic region makes this part more relevant, interesting and fun. Seeking advice and knowledge from a fisheries biologist is very useful. These DNR, Forest Service and SeaGrant employees are often willing and excited to help as guest speakers and providing tours to fisheries facilities.

Once youth have investigated and found good information about fish “runs,” the next step is to get outdoors to experience these first hand. Dress warm and be prepared for the challenges that Michigan weather offers in spring.

Late spring and early summer are a bit easier as water temperatures warm and fish can be seen in shallow water. The chance to catch a fish is always good at these times as fish are in shallow water, are often hungry and can be found rather easily.

Plus, fishing is fun. Michigan youth do not need a fishing license until age 17, but be sure to follow all fishing and boating regulations.

Michigan has an abundance of opportunities to experience a variety of fish spawning activity. Numerous rivers emptying into the Great Lakes offer runs of walleye and steelhead. Many inland rivers and lakes provide excellent chances to see northern, bass, bluegill and perch.

One very exciting fish spawning viewing opportunity is at Black Lake to see sturgeon. There are many more sites to see, so be sure to contact your local DNR, SeaGrant or MSUE office for more information.

Michigan State University Extension encourages participation in new experiences that are safe and expose youth to science involvement with 4-H Science: Asking Questions and Discovering Answers. Contact your local MSU Extension office for more information.