From an esthetic viewpoint, my favorite fish is the yellow perch, one of the most loved and pursued of all freshwater fish. They never attain large sizes--only 6-10 inches in length, but their vertical brown stripes, yellow or green color and orange lower fins give them great eye appeal. They are a schooling fish and I have on a number of occasions found myself swimming amidst several hundred of them. I have seen a very few jumbos--up to 16 inches and they can live up to 12 years. They spawn in early spring in the shallows, where the female lays up to 300,000 eggs, spreading them in gelatinous ribbons, which may be up to 7 feet long. There is no parental care, so their odds of survival are only 1 in 5000 in the first year as they are preyed on mostly by walleye. You will find them out in the open areas of most lakes feeding on plankton and aquatic insects. There is one lake I frequently visit where I can count on always seeing several thousand perch feeding upside down in the sand and sparse vegetation along the shore.
One of the most spectacular fish a snorkeler can see, a fish not quite as common as bass, perch or bluegill, is the black crappie, sometimes called the calico bass. An oblong fish with oversized upper and lower fins, it appears to have WINGS rather than fins; they are so large in proportion to the rest of the fish. They are striking with their broad tail and black spots, and in direct sunlight they have a thick silver sheen that makes them look like a piece of sculpture. With lengths up to 13 inches it is thought they live to be about 10 years of age. They spawn in May in large open areas in groups of two, standing on their tails and vibrating.
One of the least desirable fish from a fisherman’s viewpoint but one of the most exciting encounters for a snorkeler is the sucker. There are over 100 species from only 6 inches up to 33 pounds or 3 feet in length. They are bottom feeders and their large lips and protruding mouth identifies them immediately. I remember an encounter in Littlefield Lake in Isabella County where I was startled to find great clarity but not a living organism, even a minnow. I kept looking, scouring the bay area for some sign of life. I finally headed back to shore when I spotted something that is blessedly rare--a huge mound of cigarette butts near the shore. No sooner had I felt disappointed with this garbage when 2 white 2-foot suckers sailed past my arm, one of them sucking up the entire mound in literally an INSTANT. Never mind trying to photograph an event like this--no finger is fast enough to react to this kind of speed.
They usually travel in groups, and I once found myself in deeper water floating around with 47 of these cream-colored creatures, a really awesome experience.
There are 2 types of suckers inhabiting Michigan lakes, the fine-scaled suckers and the northern redhorse with its cream body and striking blood red fins. Because of their large size, suckers don’t need to seek cover from predators. Many congregate in big schools--I seldom saw a solitary one. They are moderately long lived--most have a life span of 8-15 years. Suckers spawn in early spring on clean gravel in large groups. Several males may spawn with the same female at the same time. Many times it’s a trio with a female flanked by 2 smaller males. As with the crappies, they shake violently as the sperm and eggs are released. Although they are considered a trash fish, their real value is in eating snails, detritus and algae that would otherwise go largely unused.
The fish that gets the least respect is at the top of my snorkeling list, the common carp. For a snorkeler, this is big game and definitely gets the heart pounding just from its sheer size and weight. They are members of the minnow family, but the resemblance ends there, as they are actually the largest fish you will see. A very social animal, they travel in groups and LOVE people. They are 2-3 feet long and thick in girth, and though they are very friendly and usually slow moving, many carp are in the 15-25 pound class, so it is startling, to say the least to have 15 or 20 of them swimming on all sides of you.