Brian I feel strongly there will be a giant hatch from last Summers YOY. Now whether surveys find them thats another story. Just like the naturalized King and Coho Salmon, one of the greatest success stories in freshwater fishing history, they are continually adapting. It's crazy how many Alewives have been shallow in bays even with the onset of very cold water and even icing.
Years ago we were told by managers that anything colder than 39 degrees was lethal to Pacific Salmon, yet the naturalized fishery in Georgian bay gives up Kings through the ice and they catch them in open water in March there.
The biggest concern I have is the micro managing we are seeing these days. I've seen brutal winters on Lake O before, and certainly have seen Spring Salmon decades ago that looked like they had a rough winter. It cycles back.
We are certainly seeing SOME years with huge natural hatches, so far it's looking like about every 3-5 yrs. Stocking is a tool that can be dialed into areas that do not enjoy natural RETURNS--which is a huge historical aspect to Pacific Salmon planting. Unfortunately the cuts will only hurt the areas that are already suffering from little staging.
With the latest round of cuts I have been blasted with calls and texts. Those that know me know that I sit on every board/panel there is. I was against each and every cut, and try as I did, I felt like my position and concerns fell on deaf ears. Sure, SOME years we have a big hatch, contributing lake wide when they are immature. Ultimately returning to their home areas as early as late July, leaving some areas much more devoid of returns. I love Lake O as much as anyone and would never want anything to hurt the fishery. I feel very strongly in this little surface area Great Lake that if surplus Kings occur they quickly get caught by todays intense, intelligent Salmon fishing pressure. The targeting of Pacific Salmon lakewide 7 months of the year on both sides of the pond is a relatively new occurrence. Less than 20 years ago fleets targeted trout more routinely and waited until "Salmon Season" to rig up for them.
I do not agree with the "size at age" findings, and no one I know that fishes most days of the season has seen a drastic decline in Salmon size at each age--at least out in the open lake. Any shortage of super-out sized Salmon is not just from a greater density of Salmon in the population, but as was mentioned earlier is part of the species adapting to Lake Ontario. On top of that, the increased angling pressure crops a portion of the population before they reach their ultimate size potential. Only drastically decreased angling effort(what no one wants to see, but what led to the small population of big fish in Michigan that got caught) will make much of a difference in a handful of outsized Salmon being caught. My inquiries with serious anglers on Lake Michigan indicated that yes, there was a nice slug of bigger fish around mostly late Spring, but most angler effort still was directed towards Lake Trout. I don't think most people know how thinned out the Salmon population would have to become, and how much effort would have to decline to produce a group of rare extra large specimens. "The new normal" may not have been sustainable but to try to alter the population enough to create a big enough spike in size would certainly leave alot of anglers with dry coolers.
The concept that Lake Ontario Alewives can be permanently driven to extinction is utterly out of line. Any "mistakes" made by implementing a less conservative approach to the Salmon population are 100% reversible.
A couple other thoughts with all the stuff I see swirling around. If cormorant control was implemented, and/or stocking practices were used that protected Trout and Salmon from their predation, MANY more Steelhead would be saved than any knee jerk Lake limit that is being slapped on the Lake fishermen. Most avid lake anglers are sad that the proposed limit will actually be more detrimental to that species--doing just the opposite what the proposal hoped to do. That goes for any stocked Salmon and Trout, it makes little sense to just feed the birds after the time and expense of raising them. Lastly, I know we are in the middle of a "study", but its well documented in fishery management that Coho must be stocked as holdover Spring fish . The vast majority of NYs Coho are stocked in the fall and end up eaten by birds, trout, walleye, or caught repeatedly by stream fisherman as tiny minnow sized fish. If all our Coho were Spring stocked it would be an explosive contributor.
In closing, it was never my position that we didn't experience a couple of weak year classes of Alewives, only that this has happened several times before in the last 40 yrs since anyone paid attention to it. Sure the total alewife number was reduced but it was just less of an excess. Good things happen to the alewife population when it is controlled, and certainly the fans of Perch and Walleye hatches are rewarded-as alewives are a direct predator of those hatches. The way the Chinook Salmon were distributed across the lake the last couple of Springs/early Summers is also an indicator that ample food was present East to West.
If the DECs findings are accurate, 2019 provided a great natural class of Chinook so 2021 should see lots of age 2s sizzling around the lake. Some will mature and the rest will be large adults in 2022.
Merry Christmas to everyone.