Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Livingston and Washtenaw counties (T1N and 1S, R6E, Sections 32 and 5)
Surveyed June 9 and 10, 1992
Gary L. Towns
Whitmore Lake lies along the border of two counties in Michigan's Lower
Peninsula. The northern half of this 667-acre lake is in the southeast
corner of Livingston County and the southern half of the lake is in northern
Washtenaw County. Located close to US Highway 23, this lake is easily
accessible to several communities. The Village of Whitmore Lake abuts
the southwestern shore of the lake. The closest city is Brighton (6 miles
to the north). Two large metropolitan areas are also close to Whitmore
Lake: Ann Arbor is only 9 miles south and Flint is approximately 40 miles
north of the lake. A state-owned access site, located on the northwestern
shore, with skid pier and concrete boat launching ramp, allows year-around
The lake basin has a rather deep north-south trench with the deepest
point in the northern end (69 feet). There are extensive shoals on either
side of this trench; as a result, over half of the lake is less than 10
feet deep (see map of Whitmore Lake).
Development in the form of cottages, permanent homes, beaches, and roads
is very extensive. Very little "natural" shoreline remains intact.
Basin substrates consist primarily of sand from the shoreline to a depth
of 5 feet. Fibrous peat makes up the lake bottom in the 5 to 20 foot depth
range, and the deep basin areas consist mostly of pulpy peat. Aquatic
vascular plants cover most of the shoal areas, but interfere with boating
or fishing in only small areas of the lake.
Whitmore Lake has no outlet and no natural inlet. However, the Washtenaw
County Drain Commission pumps water into the lake from the nearby Horseshoe
Lake outlet. The legal lake level set for Whitmore Lake is 895.8 feet
Many different forms of water sports including fishing, swimming, high-speed
boating, water skiing, sailing and, most recently, jet skiing all compete
for space on this large inland lake.
Undoubtedly, boating traffic interferes with fishing during the summer
months-especially during the mid-morning to early evening period.
As with many lakes in Michigan, Whitmore was stocked with large numbers
of bluegills, largemouth bass, and yellow perch in the late 1930s and
early 1940s. Large numbers of smallmouth bass fingerlings were stocked
in 1946, 1947, and 1948. In these earlier years it was thought that stocking
these common species was needed to maintain fish populations which were
being harvested by anglers. This practice was discontinued when research
showed that it was not necessary or economical.
The first fishery survey of Whitmore Lake on record in Fisheries Division
files occured in 1927. The game fish species noted at that time were similar
to those present today (1992). Similar findings were made in 1940 during
an intensive survey using several types of gear to capture fish.
Trap and fyke nets in 1970 produced a catch of over 1,200 fish. Bluegills
and pumpkinseeds were the predominant species in the catch and averaged
6.5 inches and 6.2 inches, respectively. But, growth rates of bluegills
and large-mouth bass were very poor (this is discussed later in this report).
Even so, these fish, along with the rest of the catch, indicated that
Whitmore Lake held a diverse warmwater fish population comprised primarily
of panfish and predators. Forty-one largemouth bass, one pike and four
tiger muskys were collected. However, 21 carp were also captured. Carp
are generally considered a nuisance species.
In 1986 an intensive survey employing four gear types and 3 days of collection
resulted in the capture of 1300 fish. Bluegill again predominated, comprising
79% by number and nearly 41% by weight. Many other aspects of this survey
catch will be discussed later in this report.
There has been a great deal of research on both the fish population and
the fishery of Whitmore Lake over the past several decades. Schneider
and Lockwood (1979) listed several of these studies, some of which dated
back to 1938. They used some of this past information when reporting the
effects of regulations on Whitmore Lake's fishery from 1946 through 1965.
This report holds a great deal of data regarding many aspects of the fishery
during that period of time.
Whitmore Lake has a long history of intensive human use. Brown (1941)
reported that in 1940 there were approximately 230 cottages, one hotel,
two resorts, and eight boat liveries on this lake. In addition there were
many permanent homes in the Village of Whitmore Lake. Christensen (1953)
reported on creel census data collected on Whitmore Lake from 1946 through
1952. The 7-year averages he found were: 18,200 anglers/year; 63,020 hours
of fishing/year; 54,160 fish taken/year; and 0.86 fish/hour/year. By 1980
total fishing pressure for the May-through-October period had increased
only 2% (Goudy 1981), but fishing pressure on bass had increased 200%.
Schneider and Lockwood (1979) noted that Whitmore Lake, like many other
lakes in Michigan, experienced a large increase (about four times) in
fishing pressure on bass in all the open-water seasons during the late
1950s. In the early 1950s, this lake was fished almost exclusively by
the residents of Livingston and Washtenaw Counties. By 1959, the percentage
of anglers from elsewhere in Michigan had increased from 4 to 30% and
out-of-state anglers had increased from 0 to 2%. Shanty users sought only
northern pike in the early 1950's, but the pike population dwindled and
by the early 1960s only about 20% were seeking pike exclusively, 50% were
after panfish exclusively, and 30% were fishing for both types of fish
(Schneider and Lockwood 1979).
During the early 1950s there was a good deal of concern by local residents
regarding the protection of a shallow marsh along the large peninsula
in the southern end of the lake. They argued this was the only remaining
pike spawning habitat in the lake. During the springs of 1952 and 1953
Williams (1953) made observations of pike spawning activity. He concluded
that if this peninsula were destroyed, probably few, if any, pike would
be raised in the lake. Finally, a local court ruled (Millard et al. 1953)
to protect the bottom lands and adjacent upland along the east half of
this peninsula from "filling, changing or in any way disturbing the submerged
lake bottom or raising, filling, or otherwise altering the natural condition
of the adjacent upland".
Apparently, water levels fluctuated a great deal prior to the establishment
of a legal lake limit and the installation of the pump to keep the lake
filled. Brown (1941) reported that the dredged canal from Horseshoe Lake
more than doubled the original drainage basin of Whitmore Lake which was
3 to 4 square miles. He also stated that Whitmore Lake's water level was
considerably higher than in the years immediately preceding the construction
of the canal in 1937, but not greatly different from the high-water periods
of normal cycles.
Since 1969 Fisheries Division has been stocking tiger muskellunge in
Whitmore Lake (usually every-other-year). At one time this was regarded
as one of the more successful inland tiger musky fisheries in southcentral
Lower Michigan. In 1986, a local conservation officer estimated that approximately
10% of the anglers that visited the lake fished specifically for muskys.
Records indicate that angling success for tiger muskys was fair to good
from the early 1970s through the mid-1980s. The largest reported, 47 inches
long and 24 pounds was caught in July, 1974. But, for the most part, musky
survival in this lake to old age and large size has apparently been poor
based on the lack of large muskys in angler catches or netting surveys.
In 1980, Goudy (1981) conducted a creel census and estimated that 40 tiger
muskys were harvested by anglers from May 15 through October 31. Some
of these fish were measured, scale sampled and aged, and none were found
to be longer than 32 inches or over 3 years old.
Tiger muskellunge rearing techniques in Michigan significantly changed
in the mid-1970s. Extensive culture of fingerlings (in ponds fed with
minnows) was replaced by intensive culture (in raceways fed with pellets).
This resulted in a five-fold increase in annual fingerling production
and a considerable decrease in fingerling survival and angling quality
(Beyerle 1984b). Beyerle (1984a) found a strong negative correlation between
survival of musky fingerlings and abundance of largemouth bass. The low
survival of pellet-reared fingerlings along with high predation by bass
has undoubtedly contributed to the low survival of tiger muskellunge in
The 1992 fish survey catch indicated that Whitmore Lake continues to
support a diverse warm water fish population; however, some species appear
to be greatly influenced by angling. Trap nets, gill nets, and a 220-Volt
pulsed DC boomshocker were used to collect fish during this survey. The
trap net catch indicated the presence of a healthy gamefish population
(Table 1). Gamefish comprised 97% of the trap net catch by number and
over 64% of the catch by weight. Carp comprised much of the remaining
catch biomass (26%). Bowfin, also referred to as dogfish, made up most
of the remainder of the weight in the trap net catch (9%). Gill nets captured
very few fish, but captured the only three northern pike taken during
the survey. The boomshocker was used primarily to investigate species
diversity, capture small gamefish for scale samples, and capture bass
and carp for contaminant analysis. Also, to obtain a good sample of large-and
smallmouth bass. Fifteen species were captured with the boomshocker. These
include most of those taken with trap nets (Table 1) plus tiger musky,
mud pickerel, spotfin shiner, and bluntnose minnow.
Nearly 600 bluegills were captured with trap nets during the 1992 survey.
They averaged 6.7 inches, and accounted for nearly 64% of the total catch
by number and 37% by weight (Table 1). Most bluegills were 6 inches or
longer (72.8%). Average growth for bluegills, based on the analysis of
fish scales, was 0.6 inches below the state average. Smaller, younger
bluegills were found to be growing slower than older, larger fish. One
age class (age VI) was missing from the sample (Tables 2 and 3). Apparently,
6 years ago something happened to disrupt bluegill spawning or eradicate
newly hatched fry. The loss of this year class, potential competitors,
could explain the accelerated growth of older bluegills (ages V, VII and
VIII) in the population. Water level fluctuations and extreme weather
or temperature changes during spawning periods can cause poor year class
Bluegills captured during the 1986 survey and the 1970 survey were also
growing below state average rates (-0.6 and -1.0 inches, respectively).
But, the 1992 catch had a larger average size than either of these previous
Bluegills are targeted for sampling in inland lakes because of their
role in determining fish community structure and overall sportfishing
quality (Schneider 1981). Recently, a ranking system has been developed
that allows fish managers to determine the relative quality of a lake's
fish population (Schneider 1990). On a scale of 1 to 7 (with 7 the highest
rank) the quality of the bluegill population in Whitmore Lake was calculated
from the 1992 trap net survey results as 5.2 or "good".
All types of gear collectively captured 73 largemouth bass in 1992. However,
none of these were larger than 13 inches. While trap and gill nets are
usually not very efficient at capturing bass, the boomshocker usually
provides a good sample. But even with excellent sampling conditions we
could not find large bass. This strongly suggests the occurrence of high
angling mortality (the current size limit for bass is 12 inches).
In 1976 the size limit for largemouth bass was increased from 10 to 12
inches. Goudy (1981) studied the effects of that change on the bass population
in Whitmore Lake. Using information from 1953 through 1980 he found that
despite an increase of 200% in fishing pressure, the population of bass
which were 10 inches and larger had increased 22%.
In 1993 the bass size limit was increased to 14 inches. Under normal
circumstances, if this new rule has good compliance by anglers, the size
structure of the bass population would be expected to significantly change.
However, in Whitmore Lake largemouth bass growth rates have been poor
and an improvement in bass populations may not result. In 1992, the mean
growth index was -1.2 inches, and, growth rates of larger bass were slower
than for smaller bass. Similar trends were observed in 1986 in a sample
collected with similar gear. In that sample of 90 bass, only 1 was larger
than 13.9 inches, the mean growth index was also -1.2 inches, and larger
bass were growing more slowly than smaller bass. In the 1980 intensive
study, 408 largemouth bass were captured with trap nets and electrofishing
gear. Their growth index was also negative, -0.9 inches, and their growth
pattern was similar. About 6% were longer than 13.9 inches, and 4% were
16 to 20 inches. Forty bass were captured in this lake in 1970. Those
bass were growing 1.8 inches below the state average, but some 16- to
18-inch bass were captured.
Goudy (1981) found the growth of young bass was faster in Kent and Pontiac
lakes than Whitmore Lake. Goudy speculated that bass grew faster in Kent
and Pontiac lakes because they were shallow water impoundments which probably
warm earlier in the spring and receive greater amounts of nutrient input
than Whitmore Lake.
Goudy (1981) also discussed the possibility of changes in the bass "gene
pool" caused by anglers harvesting the fastest growing, most aggressive
bass in a lake. This would leave the slower-growing fish to perpetuate
the population. He tagged many bass in these three lakes. Then, he compared
the growth patterns of bass caught by anglers to the growth patterns of
bass not caught by anglers. Goudy found no significant difference in growth
rates between the two groups of bass in any of the three lakes.
Perhaps the forage selection for optimum bass growth is deficient in
Whitmore Lake. This seems unlikely since many of the preferred forage
fish of largemouth bass appear to be present in adequate numbers. Kramer
and Smith (1960) found that the availability of quantities of invertebrate
food of appropriate size for fry rising off nests, and water temperature
before mid-August of the first year, seem to determine the ultimate growth
history for largemouth bass. Perhaps Whitmore Lake fails to produce an
adequate amount of aquatic insects for small bass. Maybe water temperatures
are adversely effected with the pumping process that maintains the water
level (see the section on Environment). For whatever reason, the growth
of largemouth bass in Whitmore Lake has been poor for at least the last
Only one tiger musky was collected during the 1992 survey. That fish
was small (11.7 inches) and, was in all probability, a yearling which
had been stocked in 1991. In recent years we have received only occasional
reports of musky catches; therefore, I do not believe this fishery is
of great significance at present. Past management of Whitmore Lake as
a musky fishery was discussed in the history section of this report.
Only two smallmouth bass were captured in 1992. This species has been
listed in fisheries surveys of Whitmore Lake as early as 1927. However,
despite extensive stocking of fall fingerling smallmouth in the 1940s,
smallmouth continue to be sparse. In southern Michigan smallmouth bass
are usually associated more with riverine systems than with seapage lakes.
It is possible that a few smallmouth bass may be entering the lake from
the Horseshoe Lake Drain via the lake level control pump.
Only three northern pike were captured in 1992. Two of these were 23
inches long and the largest was 27 inches. The growth rates of these fish
were exceptional; however, little can be said with such a small sample
size. The pike (10) captured in 1986 also grew faster than the State average
rate. Lack of prime spawning habitat is probably limiting the pike population
in this highly developed lake.
The 50 pumpkinseed (sunfish) captured in the trap nets displayed a large
average size (6.6 inches) and a better growth rate than bluegill, largemouth
bass, black crappie, or yellow perch (Table 2). Apparently, the large
area of shallow shoal in Whitmore Lake provides good habitat for the snails
and other aquatic invertebrates which make up the bulk of the pumpkinseed's
Many black crappie were captured (108) in the trap nets, but few were
large enough to be of acceptable size to anglers. The catch averaged only
6.0 inches. Growth analysis indicated a large number of two year olds
which were slow growing (Tables 2 and 3). Other year classes were present
in small numbers, but displayed better growth patterns. The 1986 survey
produced a fair catch of black crappie which averaged 8.3 inches. According
to Brown (1941) crappie were not present in Whitmore Lake before the connection
was made with Horseshoe Lake (via a dredging project in 1937).
The fish population in Whitmore Lake is similar in composition to that
of other lakes in southern Lower Michigan. However, fish growth characteristics
make the population rather unique. The population seems to be "predator
poor", with few large pike, muskys, or bass. This condition usually results
in an over-abundance of small, slow-growing panfish and a few large, fast-growing
pike and bass. The panfish are growing slowly compared to state average
growth rates, but they do not seem to be over abundant based on catch
rates of various equipment during past surveys. As for panfish predators,
pike are few in number but are growing at fast rates. However, largemouth
bass, a better panfish predator than pike, are growing at very slow rates.
The tiger musky stocking program was producing fair results from the
mid-1970s through the early 1980s. However, in recent years few muskys
have been caught and survival of stocked fingerlings has apparently been
poor. Tiger musky fingerlings are very expensive to raise, and since this
exercise is producing such poor results, I recommend that musky stocking
The few northern pike captured during this survey displayed excellent
growth rates. And, since so few were caught or observed during the 1992
survey the pike population is presumed to be quite small. This lake has
no inlets or other significant prime pike spawning areas. Supplemental
pike stocking could increase the population significantly and provide
a large predator and game fish to replace muskys. Northern pike stocking
This large lake might support a small walleye fishery. However, recent
research has indicated that clear-water inland lakes in southern Lower
Michigan need to be very heavy stocked with walleye fingerlings to produce
even a minor fishery. Probably well over 100,000 spring fingerlings would
be needed in each of three successive years in a lake of this size. More
study will be needed prior to a commitment of this magnitude.
Since the mid-1980s, we have had very good success developing redear
sunfish fisheries. This species (Lepomis microlophus) is commonly
referred to as "the shellcracker" due to their preference for snails as
food. Redear are not native to Michigan, but are closely related to native
pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus). These two species have
similar diets and behavior. A major difference is that redear grow much
faster and larger than pumpkinseed. For example, in trap net surveys redear
usually average about 9 inches and pumpkinseed average about 6 inches.
The pumpkinseed sample in the 1992 survey averaged 6.6 inches and displayed
better growth rates than the other panfish in Whitmore Lake. These facts
indicate that redear would also do well in this lake. If stocked these
large panfish would offer the angler the opportunity of a trophy-sized
panfish. I recommend stocking redear sunfish at 75 per acre for 3 successive
years in hopes of developing a reproducing population in accordance with
the Redear Sunfish Management Plan (Towns 1991).
The historical poor growth of largemouth bass in Whitmore Lake, also
observed during the 1992 survey, could be the subject of an extensive
research study. This problem should be suggested to university students
as a potential thesis topic.
Periodic monitoring of the fish population is strongly suggested, especially
to track the results of the recommended stocking programs.
Report completed: April 22, 1993.
Beyerle, G.B. 1984a. Comparative survival of pellet-reared muskellunge
stocked as fingerlings in bluegill ponds with and without largemouth bass.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Institute for Fisheries Research
Report No. 1920, Ann Arbor.
Beyerle, G.B. 1984(b). An evaluation of the tiger muskellunge stocking
program in Michigan. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Institute
for Fisheries Research Report No. 1924, Ann Arbor.
Brown, C.J.D. 1941. Fisheries survey of Whitmore Lake, Washtenaw and
Livingston Counties. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Institute
for Fisheries Research Report No. 681, Ann Arbor.
Christensen, K.E. 1953. Creel census data on Whitmore Lake, Washtenaw
and Livingston Counties. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Institute
for Fisheries Research Report No. 1370, Ann Arbor.
Goudy, G.W. 1981. The exploitation, harvest, and abundance of largemouth
bass populations in three southeastern Michigan Lakes. Michigan Department
of Natural Resources, Fisheries Research Report 1896, Ann Arbor.
Kramer, R. H. and L. L. Smith, Jr. 1960. First-year growth of the largemouth
bass, Micropterus salmoides (Lacepede), and some related ecological
factors. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 89(2):222-233.
Marcum A. 1993. Washtenaw County Drain Commission - personal communication.
Millard F.G.; Olds, M.V., and Booth, F.C. 1953. Case no. U-1086, Circuit
Court for the County of Washtenaw.
Schneider, J.C., and R.N. Lockwood. 1979. Effects of regulations on the
fisheries of Michigan Lakes, 1946-65. Michigan Department of Natural Resources,
Fisheries Research Report 1872, Ann Arbor.
Schneider, J.C. 1981. Fish communities in warmwater lakes. Michigan Department
of Natural Resources, Fisheries Research Report 1890, Ann Arbor.
Schneider, J.C. 1990. Classifying bluegill populations from lake survey
data. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Technical Report
90-10, Ann Arbor.
Towns, G.L. 1991. Redear sunfish management plan. Michigan Department
of Natural Resources, Fisheries Division, Jackson.
Williams, J.E. 1953. Observations on pike spawning at Whitmore Lake,
Livingston and Washtenaw counties, during the spring of 1953. Michigan
Department of Natural Resources, Institute for Fisheries Research Report
Table 1.-Number, weight, and length indices of fish collected
from Whitmore Lake with trap nets, June 9, 1992.
Table 2.-Average total length (inches) at age, and growth relative
to the state average, for five species of fish sampled from Whitmore Lake
with trap nets, gill nets, and boomshocker on June 9, 1992. Number of
fish aged is given in parentheses.
Table 3.-Estimated age frequency (percent) of four species of
fish caught from Whitmore Lake with trap nets and boomshocker on June
Last Update: 08/05/02