Lake Huron is bordered by Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario. Connected to Lake Michigan through the Straits of Mackinac, the two lakes technically behave like one big water body.
Lake Huron basin statistics
- Length: 206 mi (332 km)
- Breadth: 183 mi (295 km)
- Elevation: 577.5 ft (176 m)
- Depth: 195 ft (59 m) average; 750 ft (229 m) maximum
- Volume: 849 cubic mi (3,538 cubic km)
- Water surface area: 23,000 square mi (59,565 square km)
- Drainage basin area: 50,700 square mi (131,303 square km)
- Shoreline length: 3,830 mi (6,164 km), including islands
- Outlet: St. Clair River to Lake Erie
- Retention or replacement time: 21 years
- U.S. population: 1.5 million
- Canada population: 1.5 million
In northern Lake Huron, features such as the North Channel, lower St. Marys River, and Les Cheneaux Islands provide varied habitats ranging from deep, cold channels to shallow, vegetated bays. These areas and high-quality tributary streams provide spawning and nursery habitat for many native and introduced fish species.
Farther south, Saginaw Bay is shallow, warm, and nutrient-rich compared to the lake’s main basin. Saginaw Bay tributaries include the Saginaw, Tittabawassee, and Flint rivers. Although these rivers have a history of industrial and agricultural pollution, they provide spawning habitat for important fish species such as walleye.
After the late 1990s, diminishing nutrient levels and booming populations of invasive mussels contributed to declines in plankton, bottom-dwelling invertebrates, and prey fish. Natural reproduction of introduced chinook salmon in Canadian tributaries of Georgian Bay also led to high numbers of predatory fish in Lake Huron during the early 2000s. Dwindling prey fish could not sustain high salmon numbers, and both salmon and their primary prey (invasive alewife) collapsed by 2004.
After the collapse of alewife and chinook salmon, Lake Huron charter fishing dropped by half and recreational fishing declined dramatically. However, native walleye and lake trout rebounded in the absence of alewife, and walleye fishing became popular in Saginaw Bay.
Lake Huron now offers quality mixed-bag fisheries in addition to offshore lake trout fishing. In the northern part of the lake, it is possible to catch Atlantic salmon, lake trout, rainbow trout, chinook salmon, coho salmon, pink salmon, and walleye on the same trip. Some nearshore areas also provide good fishing for northern pike, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, and cisco.
Lake Huron’s commercial fisheries include lake whitefish trap net fisheries in addition to multi-species fishing operations in Saginaw Bay and Canadian waters. Bloater “chubs” are also targeted with gill nets set in deep water.
Northern Lake Huron is largely rural and forested with mining and minor agricultural industries. Relatively undeveloped coastlines, islands, and rocky formations are popular tourist destinations, such as the Les Cheneaux Islands in northern Michigan or Manitoulin Islands in Ontario. Northern Lake Huron sees significant tribal fishing activities under a 1836 treaty agreement.
The Saginaw Bay region contains the largest populations and the geographically largest watershed, which feeds the Saginaw River and Bay. This region’s urban and rural landscapes are dominated by agriculture and industry. Michigan’s southern “thumb” region is mostly rural with population centers in Port Huron (U.S.) and Sarnia (Canada) at Lake Huron’s southernmost point. Other major population centers along the Lake Huron coastline include Alpena and Bay City (U.S.) and Owen Sound (Canada).
Past forestry, mining, agriculture, and industrial activities have contributed to Lake Huron’s ongoing water quality and contamination problems, particularly in the Saginaw River and Bay. Dams providing hydroelectric power also restrict fish passage on major tributaries such as the Cheboygan, Thunder Bay, and Au Sable rivers.
Recreational fishing is a major economic driver for small Lake Huron communities. Many businesses struggled as chinook salmon numbers dropped during recent decades; meanwhile, others benefited from resurging native Saginaw Bay walleye populations. Saginaw Bay’s fisheries — particularly perch and walleye — represent more than 75 percent of Lake Huron’s total fishing participation. Commercial fishing and aquaculture are prevalent in Canadian waters of Lake Huron.