Better Tasting Lake Trout in Northern Michigan

Northern Michigan fishing lovers take note! Lake Trout is making a tasty comeback. Find the original write up in the July 2015 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.


For decades, lake trout has been the flavor underdog of local fish. Fishermen have long considered it fatty and greasy, with a pronounced fishy taste that has turned away many cooks and diners, and sent them running for the far-milder whitefish or classic salmon flavors of coho and chinook. But as the ecological composition of the Great Lakes has changed in recent years, so, too, has the flavor of lake trout—and some say the region’s native trophy fish is regaining a respected place at the table.

The shifting flavor profile of lake trout is due to a change in the fish’s diet—which in turn is a result of the rise and fall of certain invasive species. When the big lakes were besieged by alewives in the mid- to late parts of the past century, trout ate them with abandon—but as it turned out, the alewives lacked thiamin, a vitamin crucial to lake trout health.

The lack of thiamin made the lake trout pale and poor tasting, and even affected their fry’s ability to survive. When the alewife population crashed, lake trout took to eating round goby, an invasive species first seen in the Great Lakes in 1990, and a far more nutrient-rich fish.
Cindy John, who has fished commercially out of Peshawbestown since the 1980s, says the flavor improvement is undeniable. “It’s a great day for lake trout,” she says. “Their flesh is orange now, compared to the pale white that they were before, and the flavor is amazing. It’s clean tasting, versus the oily taste it had in the past.” If invasive species are now par for the course in our Great Lakes, there might as well be a silver lining—so a better-tasting trophy fish? We’ll raise our forks to that.

 

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