Lime Lake: Environment, Geology, Fisheries

Environment & Geology

Lime Lake is a 670-acre lake located in Leelanau County, Michigan, approximately two miles north of the Village of Maple City. Lime Lake has a maximum depth of 65 feet, and extensive shoal areas with depths less than 15 feet (Figure 1). Substrate in Lime Lake is predominately sand and marl, with some areas of cobble and gravel present. Vegetation in Lime Lake is sparse, though there is some emergent vegetation near the shoreline and some small submerged weed beds in water from 5 to 20 feet deep. 

Good Harbor Bay Watershed

The land in the Lime Lake watershed is characterized by a variety of soil types including Kalkaska

series sands along the west and south sides of the lake, Leelanau-East Lake loamy sands along the east side of the lake, Eastport sands between Lime Lake and Little Traverse Lake, and Lupton-Markey muck soils along Lime Creek and Shetland Creek. 

Lime Lake is fed by several hillside seeps, springs, and small creeks, with the largest being Lime Creek which flows in at the southern end of the lake. Shetland Creek flows out of the north end of Lime Lake and into Little Traverse Lake, and from there Shalda Creek flows out of Little Traverse

Lake and into Good Harbor Bay on Lake Michigan. Migratory fish from Lake Michigan have access to Lime Lake through this connection in years of high water or when there are no natural obstructions (beaver dams); Fisheries Division staff have historically observed Chinook salmon spawning in Lime Creek. The four tributaries that feed Lime Lake on the southern end (including Lime Creek) are all Type 1 designated trout streams, Shetland Creek from Lime Lake to Little Traverse Lake is a non-designated stream, and Shalda Creek from Little Traverse Lake to Lake Michigan is a Type 4 designated trout stream. 

Type 1 designated trout streams are open to fishing from the last Saturday in April to September 30th. Any tackle type may be used and the streams have a possession limit of 5 fish per day, with no more than 3 fish 15" or greater. Brook trout must be 7" or more, brown trout must be 8" or more, and Chinook salmon, coho salmon, rainbow trout, and lake trout must be 10" or more in order to harvest.

Non-designated streams are open all year with an 8" minimum size limit and a 5 fish possession limit, with no more than 3 fish 15" or greater (with the exception that up to 5 Chinook or coho salmon 15" or greater may be harvested). Type 4 designated trout stream are open to fishing for the entire year. Any tackle type may be used and the streams have a possession limit of 5 fish per day, with no more than 3 fish 15" or greater. Brook trout must be 8" or more, brown trout must be 10" or more, and Chinook salmon, coho salmon, rainbow trout, and lake trout must be 10" or more in order to harvest. 

Lime Lake is a Type C designated trout lake that is open to trout fishing for the entire year. In Type C lakes all tackle types may be used and the lake has a possession limit of 5 trout per day, with no more than 3 trout 15" or greater. The lake is accessible via a Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) public boat launch. This launch is located on the southwestern shore of the lake and has one dock, two slips to launch and retrieve boats, vault toilet facilities, and approximately six gravel parking spaces.

The Lime Lake Association is the only riparian association that is currently active on Lime Lake. The Cedar Rod and Gun Club in nearby Cedar, MI is a local sportsman's group that has historically been interested in the management of Lime Lake. MDNR Fisheries Division often receives fishing reports from both local and out-of-town anglers. 

The Leelanau Conservancy actively manages the Teichner Preserve, which is a 41-acre parcel of property located on the northeast shore of Lime Lake. This property was gifted to the conservancy in 1996, and includes 200-feet of lake frontage, uniquely forested lowland, and extensive wetlands (Leelanau Conservancy 2011). The property is open to the public for guided tours and hiking.

Fisheries Survey

The 2010 MDNR fisheries survey showed Lime Lake hosts a healthy fish community with abundant species diversity. Game fish species collected include brown trout, largemouth bass, northern pike, and smallmouth bass. Brown trout were represented by two year classes (ages 1 and 3), indicating that some holdover of stocked trout is occurring. Smallmouth bass were represented by 10 year classes (ages 2-9 and ages 11-12) and are growing at a fairly good (-0.1 inches) pace compared to the State average. Very few largemouth bass or northern pike were collected. It is important to note that in the time that Lime Lake has been a managed fishery, northern pike have only occurred in low densities (some reported in the 1948 creel, one collected in the 1973 survey, and two collected in the 2010 survey). In Lime Lake where maintaining a trout fishery is one of the management goals it is critical to keep northern pike densities low to reduce predation on stocked trout.

Panfish species collected in the survey include bluegill, yellow perch, longear sunfish, and rock bass. Yellow perch were represented by five year classes (ages 3-6 and age 10), and exhibited very slow growth rates compared to the State average (-1.2 inches). This supports angler comments we have received about Lime Lake, as most anglers report catching low numbers of very large perch, mostly in the winter months or early spring. Rock bass were represented by eight year classes (ages 3-10) and were growing above State average (+0.5 inches).

There are noteable differences between the fish communities collected in the 2010 fisheries survey and the fish communities collected in the prior surveys. A sharp decline occurred in alewife numbers from the 1999 survey. This could partially be attributed to gear bias, as more fyke nets were used in the 1999 survey. Fyke nets could be more effective at collecting alewife than the trap nets used in the 2010 Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources 2011-117 survey. It could also be due to the fact that connectivity between Lime Lake and Lake Michigan has declined over the years. Both Shalda Creek and Sheltland Creek have experienced low water, beaver activity, and other blockages which may be preventing migratory species from reaching Lime Lake as they have in the past. Species absent from the 2010 catch included pumpkinseed sunfish, green sunfish, and fathead minnows. New species collected in the 2010 survey included longear sunfish, creek chub, bowfin, Johnny darter, mimic shiner, and sand shiner. Based on the three species of sunfish that have shown up in the catch through the years, there is potential that hybridization of panfish is making identification difficult. 

Management Direction

Any remaining riparian wetlands adjacent to Lime Lake and its tributaries should be protected as they are critical to the continued health of the watershed. Future unwise riparian development and wetland loss may result in deterioration of the water quality and aquatic habitat. Healthy biological communities in inland lakes and streams require suitable natural habitat. Human development within the watershed, along the shoreline, or within the littoral zone has a tendency to change and diminish natural habitat. Appropriate watershed management is necessary to sustain healthy biological communities, including fish, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds and aquatic mammals. Generally for lakes this includes maintenance of good water quality, keeping nutrients balanced, preservation of natural shorelines; especially shore contours and vegetation, and preservation of bottom contours, vegetation, and woody structure within the lake. Guidelines for protecting fisheries habitat in inland lakes can be found in Fisheries Division Special Report 38 (O'Neal and Soulliere 2006). Additionally, dredging of the littoral zone should be avoided if possible on Lime Lake, particularly where gravel and cobble substrates are located. Most of the nearshore properties that are developed on Lime Lake have gravel and cobble substrates present. This nearshore habitat is critical for a number of important Lime Lake fish species, as gravel and cobble substrates provide spawning habitat and also host many important aquatic invertebrates that help to sustain healthy fish populations. 

MDNR Fisheries Division should work collaboratively with the Lime Lake Association, MDEQ, National Park Service, and various non-profit environmental agencies (Leelanau Conservancy and the Leelanau Conservation District, etc.) to identify aquatic connectivity barriers and sustain or enhance aquatic connectivity among all the basins within the Lime Lake watershed, specifically Lime Creek, Shetland Creek, Shalda Creek, and Little Traverse Lake. Enhanced aquatic connectivity will help sustain healthy fish populations into the future.

Native species like smallmouth bass, rock bass, and yellow perch should continue to thrive in Lime Lake. During the 2010 survey the number and size range of these particular species were indicative of healthy populations. In particular, the smallmouth bass population in Lime Lake is exceptional, and Lime Lake has an excellent reputation among anglers for its smallmouth bass fishery. The brown trout stocking program for Lime Lake should continue. We receive many comments from anglers who appreciate the stocking program and pursue the stocked brown trout. The suggested brown trout stocking rate of 20 fish/acre (13,400) is well within the recommended Michigan guidelines of 46 fish/acre (Dexter and O'Neal 2004) and should continue on an annual basis.

Although the current Lime Lake northern pike densities appear low, this lake should be a candidate for a no minimum size limit classification and 5 fish per day limit for northern pike. MDNR Fisheries Division should survey Lime Lake again within the next five to ten years in order to continually assess the fish community and evaluate our brown trout stocking efforts. Fisheries Division should also survey the major tributaries to Lime Lake to better understand their contributions to this watershed. Many of these streams have never been surveyed or have not been surveyed in many years. 


Summarized from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources 2011-117

Status of the Fishery Resource Report Report (complete report available online)

Heather Seites-Hettinger, Fisheries Biologist, Traverse City