The best part of Dustin Meeter catching the Indiana-record lake whitefish April 13 is the back story.
And the bigger story.
In 2017, Meeter caught his first whitefish and didn’t know what it was. He filleted it and ate it. Whitefish are excellent table fare. The next day at church his buddy Bryce Rieck told him it was probably a record.
So April 13, when jigging again for lake trout by Burns Harbor, Meeter, a sheet metal worker from Crown Point, was ready when he hooked another.
“Pulled it up and knew what it was,’’ Meeter said.
They weighed it on the boat at 6.6 pounds. On that Friday, the Indiana DNR was closed when they got there. On Monday, April 16, the 25.5-inch whitefish officially weighed 6 pounds, 3 ounces, topping Alexander Ciesielski’s record whitefish (5-13) caught Jan. 21, 2017 near Portage Lakefront Park.
Meeter’s record was the sixth change since Indiana started keeping whitefish records in 2012. Illinois also started keeping whitefish records then and has had five record changes.
On March 22, 2017, Ken Maggiore caught two Illinois records—whitefish and burbot—at Montrose Harbor. His whitefish was 27 3/4 inches long and 7.5 pounds, a record that has stood for 13 months.
Now the big question: How big might whitefish be in southern Lake Michigan?
“Catching a state-record fish is always a possibility, especially in an open system like Lake Michigan,’’ emailed Vic Santucci, Illinois’ Lake Michigan Program manager.
Brian Breidert, Indiana’s Lake Michigan fisheries biologist, agreed.
“We do believe there are larger ones swimming in Indiana waters but certainly in southern Lake Michigan,’’ he emailed. “We have seen photos of fish in the 7-9 pound range out of Holland, Michigan. Our population appears to be made up of young fish but there are a few older (larger) fish mixed in. ‘
Surveys and history back that up.
“Last year we had a couple that were 7 pounds [in surveys], and there is a mounted one here at the office from the early 1990’s that was 12 pounds, 9 ounces and 28 inches in length,’’ Breidert emailed.
For sport fishermen, catches of whitefish have spread the last several decades in southern Lake Michigan, south along the Michigan coast to Michigan City, Ind., then west to Portage, East Chicago and Chicago.
In discussing whitefish last spring, Santucci emailed, “One possibility for a change in whitefish foraging behavior is the near disappearance of the scud, Diporeia, from all but the deepest portions of the lake, and the increase in abundance of round goby.
“As you know, gobies are found in abundance among the rocks and boulders of our harbors and nearshore areas throughout much of the year. Foraging whitefish may be drawn to these nearshore areas when the temperature is right to feed on gobies or other prey, which increases their chances of encountering baited hooks of anglers fishing nearshore for perch, drum or other species.’’
Whitefish are bottom feeders. From shore, it’s bottom fishing with weight, light leader and small baits (single salmon eggs, piece of crawler, etc.); from boat, jigging.
Breidert noted the best fishing from shore is late fall as the water temperature dips below 50 degrees and early spring before the water warms past 50.
`Spring is the time of the year when most people fish them because they are fishing the piers for coho,’’ Breidert said. “I think this will stand for a year [until next spring].’’