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BOWMAN: How gobies have altered Lake Michigan fishing

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Updated: June 16, 2013 6:38AM

Should we credit or blame round gobies?

On May 4, Mike Myers and David Adams weighed a five-fish bass tournament record for southern Lake Michigan. The Indiana men weighed five smallmouth bass at 25.72 pounds in an Angler’s Dream tournament out of East Chicago Marina.

The unnatural natural world of Lake Michigan fascinates me.

Round gobies were discovered in Lake Michigan in 1994. Since then, the invasives from the Black and Caspian seas have altered the lake’s natural balance and changed fishing. Smart fishermen learned to imitate gobies to catch smallmouth, which have learned gobies make a good food source.

A couple of things stuck with me after interviewing Myers and Adams last week. For one, who was the guy behind Adams holding the fifth smallmouth in the photo?

There was no mystery about their spot: It was ‘‘The Ponds’’ at Lake Street off Gary, Ind. There was no mystery about their basic lure: It was a Poor Boy Erie Darter in Steiger Ice, a pattern from Capt. Ralph Steiger, the young multispecies captain on Lake Michigan.

‘‘We weren’t fishing anything special, but we were catching them,’’ said Adams, a bricklayer who also owns Hoodz, a kitchen exhaust-cleaning company. ‘‘We couldn’t do anything wrong. We couldn’t lose a fish.’’

Subtleties mattered in their wildly successful day, which included a smallmouth of 5.5 pounds.

‘‘Contact with wall meant everything that day,’’ said Myers, a union bricklayer.

They cast a light (3/16th-ounce) jighead tight to the wall. If the jig didn’t fall straight down, they recast. They were imitating gobies, which they thought were moving up and down tight to the steel walls.

I found that curious. Fishermen think of gobies as bottom-feeders. Perch fishermen have learned that if the rat-a-tat bite of gobies becomes too bothersome, they simply raise the bait a few inches off the bottom.

So I called Kevin Irons, the aquaculture and aquatic nuisance-species program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

‘‘I haven’t seen that personally,’’ he said. ‘‘But if that is structure, they will be all the way to the water surface.’’

Irons said they found gobies to the surface below the O’Brien Lock on the Calumet River. He pointed out the pelvic fins of round gobies form, in essence, a suction cup, allowing them to hold on to rocks or other surfaces, even steel walls.

‘‘They will eat zebra mussels,’’ Irons said. ‘‘They could be there feeding on the first spawn of zebra mussels.’’

Zebra mussels, another invasive native to the Caspian Sea, arrived in the Great Lakes in the 1980s. In one of those twists in the unnatural world of modern Lake Michigan, gobies eat zebra mussels. And common fish in Lake Michigan have learned to eat gobies in an altered food chain.

As Myers and Adams culled fish on their historic day, Myers looked in the live well and saw crayfish and gobies to 7 inches coughed up by the monster fish.

‘‘I kept telling Dave, ‘Dude, we are losing weight,’ ’’ Myers said. ‘‘It was just a perfect storm. That may never happen again.’’

In the unnatural world of Lake Michigan, ‘‘never’’ is a big word.

Wild things

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Stray cast

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