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5 Biggest Fish Found in the Great Lakes

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Fishing is one of America’s greatest pastimes. According to the American Sportfishing Association, the United States is home to over 60 million anglers or approximately 18% of the nation’s entire population.

While there are countless places to fish in North America, five of the best locations are the Great Lakes: Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior, due to the wide variety of species available.

Anglers come from near and far to experience the best catches the Great Lakes have to offer. To help you on your next Great Lakes fishing trip, we’ve whittled the list down to five of the biggest fish you can expect to catch.

Lake Trout

The lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) was a threatened species that almost disappeared from the Great Lakes. Human activity in the 1800s resulted in the introduction of the sea lamprey, one of the Lakes’ few non-native species. These parasitic fish relentlessly attacked lake trout, causing a massive population decline by the late 1940s.

However, lake trout have not only made a comeback in the Great Lakes but are also one of the most commonly fished species in the Great Lakes and nationwide. The National Park Service estimates anglers catch 20,000 of them yearly.

Lake Trout Statistics

  • Average weight: 40 lbs.
  • Average size: 16-19.5 inches
  • Largest individual fish caught: 50 inches, 102 lbs. in Alaska
  • Location in the Great Lakes: Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior

The burbot

Burbot

The burbot (Lota lota) is the only member of the cod family living in freshwater. While anglers can find burbot in any of the five Great Lakes, they are most commonly found in Lake Erie.

Burbots are well-known for their large dimensions and peculiar appearance, with a serpentine, eel-like body, a head resembling a catfish’s, and a wide mouth with a single barbel under its chin. The burbot is a carnivorous bottom feeder that eats small fish such as lamprey or whitefish.

Burbot Statistics

  • Average weight: 42 lbs.Average weight: 42 lbs.
  • Average size: 19 inches
  • Largest individual fish caught: 79.4 lbs. in Russia
  • Location in the Great Lakes: Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior

Channel Catfish

The channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is the most common catfish species in North America and the official fish of five states: Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Tennessee.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, anglers can find channel catfish in over 70 national wildlife refuges across the United States.

Anglers looking for the channel catfish in the Great Lakes can find them in Lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan, and Ontario, as well as many inland lakes and rivers. You can easily recognize them by their wide mouths, numerous barbels, and large, forked tails.

Channel Catfish Statistics

The muskellunge

Muskellunge

The muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), often called muskie or lunge, is the largest species of fish in the pike family and one of the largest North American freshwater fish species. Its name is German for “muscle lung,” a phonetic approximation of its name in the Ojibwe (maashkinoozhe) and Algonquin languages (maskinunga).

The muskie has an elongated, torpedo-shaped body, a forked tail, and a single dorsal fin. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the muskellunge is most common in the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair. However, they can also be found in Lake Michigan.

Muskellunge Statistics

  • Average weight: 5-35 lbs., although many can reach up to 70 lbs.
  • Average size: 38 inches
  • Largest individual fish caught: 55 inches, 61.25 lbs. confirmed in 2004 on the Canadian side of Lake Huron
  • Location in the Great Lakes: Primarily Lake Michigan

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Lake Sturgeon

If you are looking for the largest fish in the Great Lakes, look no further than the lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens). While their average lifespan ranges from 50 to 80 years, a 240 lb specimen caught in Detroit is believed to be over 100 years old.

Lake sturgeons are one of the rare freshwater fish with an average size routinely exceeding 3 feet (36 inches). If you plan on catching this enormous fish, don’t leave home without the Freedom Fatigues dog tag with a gut hook, ideal for scaling and gutting your catch dockside.

Lake Sturgeon Statistics

  • Average weight: 7.7 to 79 lbs.
  • Average size: 47 inches
  • Largest individual fish caught: 86 inches, 198 lbs. confirmed in 2015 in Wisconsin
  • Location in the Great Lakes: Lakes Michigan and Superior, mainly in the drainage basins

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