Lake Gogebic — Giant gem of the U.P./Tom Rozich

Lake Gogebic is the sixth-largest inland lake in Michigan and the biggest in the U.P., containing 13,380 acres. The name comes from the Chippewa, who called it Agogebic, meaning “A body of water hanging on high.” The lake lies at an elevation of 1,291 feet, which is 689 feet above Lake Superior (at 602 feet).

It is roughly 19 miles long by 1.5 miles wide and is half each in Gogebic and Ontonagon Counties. The lake has an average depth of 21 feet and maximum depth of 35 feet, with about a third being 15 feet deep or less. The 33 miles of shoreline is mostly developed with private residences. There are two public boat launches, one in Bergland and the other in Gogebic State Park.

There are eight inlet tributaries: Bingham, Gillis, Hendrick, Knute, Merriweather and Montgomery Creeks, Slate River and Trout Brook. The one outlet is the West Branch of the Ontonagon River, where there is a low head dam (4 feet), the Bergland Dam. The dam was constructed for hydroelectric power in 1906 by the Victoria Copper Mining Company , which operated several area copper mines (Cushin, Nonesuch, and Victoria) from 1899 to 1921. The dam was taken over in 1921 by the Copper District Power Co. and is now owned by Upper Peninsula Power Company.

Lake Gogebic has a long history of fish stocking commencing in 1892 and running through 1998. Some of the more interesting are: Lake trout from 1892-1914, with no survival; Walleye were first introduced in 1904 and came by rail from Sault Ste. Marie; Largemouth bass from 1906-1933, with no survival; Bluegill from 1931-1945, with no survival; Emerald shiners, sand shiners, spottail shiners and fathead minnows were stocked in 1988 and 1996-1998 in an effort to create a forage base, with no survival.

In April and June 2005, the DNR Fisheries Division conducted an intensive fish survey using trap, fyke and gill nets, seines, electrofishing and included the tagging of walleye, pike and smallmouth bass. The tagging was to get population estimates, angler catch rates, and movement. An angler creel census followed, where a DNR employee interviewed anglers about what they caught, how long they fished, etc.

The survey resulted in 24,816 fish collected of 15 different species including walleye, pike, perch, smallmouth bass, rock bass, black crappie, pumpkinseed sunfish, white sucker, black and brown bullhead, burbot, cisco (lake herring), common shiner, golden shiner and creek chub.

The catch included 18,229 walleye, ranging from 5.2 to 30.2 inches, averaged 14.9 inches and included 15 different age groups. Forty percent or 5,734 were legal size of 15 inches. Clearly Lake Gogebic is a walleye lake, as they were 74 percent of the total fish collected. The bad news is they are slow-growing.

The males take five summers to reach the legal minimum of 15 inches, while the females take four summers. The problem is forage too many mouths to feed and too few minnows to eat, which are walleyes’ favorite food. In most Michigan lakes it takes three summers to reach the legal minimum.

In Saginaw Bay and Bay de Noc, they only take two summers. In our Portage Lake, some get to 15 inches after two summers. The stocking history has shown an attempt was made to build a minnow forage base, with no success. Food for thought and the walleye: With the eight inlet tributaries available for spawning, introducing smelt could logically build a forage population and create an ice fishery. This would entail closing these creeks to smelt dipping to protect them during spawning. However, it may not be acceptable to fisheries biologists, as smelt are not a native species.

The angler survey also showed walleye was the most sought-after fish, with perch being second. The angler survey estimated 116,875 hours, down slightly from 1998 estimate of 129,552 hours. This says that while Lake Gogebic is still a favorite walleye fishing location, most of effort (87 percent) is during the open-water period. The estimate was 5,400 legal walleye and 10,100 perch harvested.

The tag returns show Lake Gogebic walleye do not leave the lake via the West Branch Ontonagon River. A walleye tagged in 1985 in Gogebic was caught in the Victoria Flowage a year later, the sole wanderer.

Go Fish!