Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Creel Survey



The Lake Michigan Biological Station has conducted an annual creel survey of non-charter anglers fishing Lake Michigan access sites in Illinois since 1985 (with few major design changes since 1986).  The survey consists of counting anglers and conducting interviews via a standardized questionnaire.  The creel survey has established a long-term dataset that documents patterns and trends in effort, harvest, and expenditures by anglers fishing the Illinois waters of Lake Michigan.  In addition, the creel survey collects data regarding the characteristics (e.g., length, weight, fin clips) of fish harvested by anglers.  Creel survey data represent important, fishery-dependent information, valuable to IDNR biologists as one piece of a multifaceted approach to understanding and managing the Lake Michigan fishery.  Creel survey data have been used in the past to support management actions such as regulation and stocking changes, often in concert with other states around the lake.

 Most recreational fishing in Illinois waters is targeted either at yellow perch (Perca flavescens) or salmonines (i.e., Chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha; coho salmon, O. kisutch; rainbow trout, O. mykiss; brown trout Salmo trutta; and lake trout Salvelinus namaycush).  Additional angling effort (but generally less than 10 percent) is directed at other species such as the black basses (especially smallmouth bass, Micropterus dolomieu) and freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens).


What have we documented using creel survey data?

In the context of a changing Lake Michigan ecosystem (see Nearshore), the creel survey has documented important trends in the fishery over time.  A few notable results are shown below:

Yellow perch angling has experienced major changes in harvest and effort since 1986, and angling dynamics have changed in response to regulation changes (Figure 1).  The 8- to 10-inch “keeper” slot limit was implemented to address a gender ratio that was skewed in favor of smaller male perch.  The slot limit focused angler harvest on a size class that was predominantly comprised of males (thereby reducing harvest of female perch).

Figure 1.  Annual yellow perch harvest (yellow bars) and perch-directed angling effort (black triangles) by anglers using Illinois access to Lake Michigan during 1986 – 2014, estimated using creel survey data.  Also indicated: important events and regulation changes for the fishery.

Additionally, the average length of harvested yellow perch increased substantially through the 1990s and early 2000s (Figure 2).  Increased abundance of larger, female perch in the population may have contributed to the observed increase in average size of harvested perch after the slot limit was lifted in 2001.

Figure 2.  Annual mean length of yellow perch harvested by anglers using Illinois access to Lake Michigan during 1986 – 2014, estimated using creel survey data.  The timing of a “keeper” slot limit regulation is indicated.

These results complement other LMBS yellow perch research.

Another important pattern documented by the creel survey is the consistent dominance of coho salmon in the Illinois salmonine harvest (Figure 3), which contrasts with some other regions of Lake Michigan where Chinook salmon is often the most important species in the salmonine harvest.  Salmonine stocking levels are coordinated lake-wide to balance salmonine predation and prey fish abundance in the context of changes in salmonine natural reproduction; creel survey data document the impact of stocking changes on recreational harvest of salmonines.

Figure 3.  Annual estimated harvest of salmonines by anglers (non-charter) using Illinois access to Lake Michigan, 1986 – 2014.  Arrows indicate years of notable reductions in Chinook salmon stocking.

Other patterns documented by the creel survey, include data describing trends in overall angler effort through time (Figure 4) and recent patterns in species-directed effort (Figure 5), are additional examples of data used by IDNR biologists to inform management decisions (e.g., regulation and stocking changes).  The LMBS creel survey, combined with creel survey data from other states’ waters of Lake Michigan, continues to document significant temporal and spatial patterns in the fishery, and represents an important component of lake-wide fisheries research and management.

Figure 4.  Annual estimated angling effort by boaters and pedestrians (i.e., fishing from shore, piers, or other structures) using Illinois access to Lake Michigan during 1986 – 2014.

Figure 5.  Estimated mean proportions of total angling hours directed at yellow perch, salmonines, or other fish, for anglers using Illinois access to Lake Michigan 2004 – 2014.  The “Other” category includes unspecified effort (“anything that bites”) and effort directed at defined species (e.g., freshwater drum) or groups of species (e.g. “bass”).



Current Research

Currently, we are in the midst of a project evaluating economic value and other human dimensions of the Lake Michigan fishery in Illinois, in collaboration with other INHS scientists and researchers at Purdue University.  We also continue to improve our estimates by evaluating precision and accuracy in our datasets, as well as by improving data used to expand creel survey estimates to non-creeled locations, dates, and times.  For example, we anticipate conducting surveys during the winter, a season not usually surveyed, to quantify yellow perch harvest and effort outside of the traditional survey season.  Additional research questions relate to patterns in angler effort and behavior (e.g., catch-and-release rates and selective harvest) in response to fish population characteristics and regulation changes (e.g., new changes in seasonal closures for yellow perch).



Annual reports summarizing creel survey data are uploaded here:


Last Update: 2015-11-05, 15:04:13 CST

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