Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Barry County (T1N, R9W, Sections 31, 36)
Kalamazoo County (T1N, R9-10W, Sections 6, 7, 8, 17, 18, 20, 1, 2, 12)
James L. Dexter, Jr.
Gull Lake is one of only a few lakes in southern Michigan that could
be classified as a mesotrophic, perhaps slightly oligotrophic lake. Born
of glacial origin about 14,000 years ago, the lake lies mostly in northern
Kalamazoo County. Gull Lake is located just 2 miles from Richland, and
about 6 miles south of Delton. The population center of Kalamazoo is about
11 miles to the southwest of the lake.
The land surrounding the lake is mostly well-drained loamy sand formed
from glacial outwash. The topography ranges from nearly level farmland
to steep hills (usually associated with small wetland systems). Land use
in the watershed includes farming (corn, wheat, hay), woodlots, and residential
The drainage area of the lake is small (17,000 acres) compared to the
size of the lake (2,030 acres). The watershed is in the Kalamazoo River
Basin, which drains into Lake Michigan. The outlet (Gull Lake outlet or
Gull Creek) is at the south end of the lake. A control structure was built
on the outlet in the mid-1800s to provide power for a grist mill and to
control lake level. At present, the lake has no legally established lake
level and is maintained about 8 feet above its original level. Each fall
the lake is drawn down 8-10 inches to alleviate ice damage to the shoreline.
Lake levels are raised back to normal at ice out. This practice of raising
and lowering has been occurring since at least 1935.
A number of inlets exist, all of which are quite small. Prairieville
Creek, a designated trout stream, drains into the north end of the lake
and is the largest inlet (approximately 5-10 ft3/s). Along the west shore,
Long, Miller, and Grass lakes drain into Gull Lake. Wintergreen Lake drains
into Gull Lake on the east shore. Numerous springs are located along the
The long axis of Gull Lake extends in a northwest-southeast direction.
The lake is over 4 miles long and more than 1 mile wide for most of its
length. Mapped in 1941 by the Institute for Fisheries Research, several
deep depressions exist in the lake. The deepest (110 feet) is located
almost directly in the middle of the lake. Another depression (108 feet)
is at the north end of the lake. One large island exists toward the southern
end. This island used to be a peninsula before the dam was installed.
Two sunken islands, locally known as the "Hogs backs," are present in
the middle of the lake. Both are about 20 feet underwater.
The shoal areas of Gull Lake cover approximately 30% of the total surface
area. Composed primarily of sand, gravel, and rubble, the shoal areas
less than 10 feet deep are kept clean by strong wave action. Marl extends
from the edge of the sand/gravel areas to about the 30-foot contour. The
rest of the lake bottom is largely a mixture of marl and pulpy peat.
The water quality of Gull Lake is excellent. A sewage system was completed
around the lake in 1983. Water clarity, and perhaps quality, has improved
substantially since that time. The water of Gull Lake is clear. Although,
from a distance, it appears emerald green due to the suspension of marl
in the water column. Secchi disk readings in May of 1989 were as deep
as 40 feet. A water chemistry survey in August of 1989 found Secchi disk
readings of 9-11 feet. Also, dissolved oxygen levels were at least 5 ppm
down to 65 feet. Water temperatures ranged from 74°F at the surface
to 46°F at the bottom, with a thermocline from 29 to 37 feet. Alkalinities
ranged from 116 to 145 ppm (hard) and pH readings were alkaline (8.6-8.8).
These values are similar to those found in the 1940s.
In 1941, Perry and Brown (1942) observed Gull Lake was "well supplied
with submergent vegetation from the edge of the sand and gravel shoals
to depths as great as 40 feet." They identified 24 aquatic plant species.
Today, I would rank the overall aquatic plant community as "sparse" rather
than "well-supplied," but have not examined it closely.
Most of the lake shore has been developed into home sites. A four-lane
boat launching ramp is located in Prairieville Township Park on the north
shore. This site can handle 70 boat trailers. Another small access site
is at the end of Baseline Road on the northeast shore. Michigan State
University owns a sizeable portion of the east shore, upon which the Kellogg
Biological Station and Bird Sanctuary is located. Two marinas and a golf
course are also located on the shores of the lake.
Biologists (state and university) have collected 55 species of fish from
Gull Lake (Appendix 1). At least 10 species have been introduced. Gull
Lake has one of the most diverse fish communities found in Michigan.
The earliest fish surveys were made in the 1930s and 1940s, primarily
with seines. Collected were a variety of forage species including several
shiner and minnow species, four darter species, brook silverside, and
mottled sculpin (Appendix 1). Common game fish species at that time were
largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, rock bass, bluegill, and
cisco (now believed to be extinct). Northern pike and walleye were considered
much less common. Walleye were introduced by private citizens only once
in the late 1920s. Local anglers considered that stocking to be very unsuccessful.
The fish community present today is probably little changed from that
of 60 years ago except for the addition of some species by stocking. In
addition to the fish listed above, landlocked Atlantic salmon, rainbow
trout, lake trout, brown trout, splake, and smelt have been added at one
time or another (Appendix 2). Currently, only Atlantic salmon and rainbow
trout are stocked yearly. Brown trout, although not stocked since 1964,
are still occasionally captured. A good number of lake trout persist though
they have not been stocked since 1982. It is assumed that smelt do not
exist anymore, as the last smelt run was observed in 1983.
The most recent and thorough general fish survey was conducted in 1989
with gill nets, trap nets, and electrofishing gear (Table 1). Rock bass
dominated in both number and weight among the 2,000 fish we examined.
Unusually large rock bass (11.8 inches), yellow perch (12.9 inches), bluegill
(9.8 inches), and Atlantic salmon (30.1 inches) were taken.
There is little prior fish survey data suitable for comparison. The majority
of the work by Division biologists was accomplished in the first half
of this century. Other than yearly monitoring of smelt runs, the Division's
primary involvement over the last 2 decades was in assisting Michigan
State University in their studies during the mid-1970s.
Growth rates of game fish in 1989 were very good (Table 2). Growth indices
ranged from 0.2 to 2.7 inches above state average, depending on the species.
Both northern pike and Atlantic salmon reached a length of 21 inches by
Age II (two growing seasons). No problems with inter- or intraspecific
competition are indicated.
Some comparison can be made to 1976 samples collected by Michigan State
University (Table 2, in parentheses). Largemouth bass and yellow perch
were well sampled in both years and both species have shown large improvements
in growth. Smallmouth bass average growth appears to have improved slightly,
although sample sizes for both collection years were small. Bluegill growth
is comparable only for age groups II and III. Bluegills in 1989 were growing
much slower than the same age groups in 1976. However, after age-IV, bluegill
growth in 1989 was above average.
Age composition and survival characteristics of sport fish are close
to normal (Table 3). Note that ages I and II fish are under-represented
in Table 3 because nets are selective for medium-to-large fish. Also,
small fish collected by electrofishing were not included. Recruitment
of all species appears to be good. Age III and IV northern pike were relatively
abundant, suggesting either that strong year classes occurred in 1985
and 1986, or that pike are not being heavily fished. Other species seem
to have a high mortality rate after they reach legal or acceptable size
The clear, cool environment of Gull Lake would seem to offer better habitat
for smallmouth bass than for largemouth bass. However, the largemouth
bass is the more abundant species according to fish surveys. Studies by
graduate students have noted that smallmouth bass reproduction is impaired
by heavy infestations of the bass tapeworm (Proteocephalus ambloplitis).
Records dating back 50 years indicated that most smallmouth bass are infected.
Currently, a very good fishery exists for most game species. Large and
abundant bluegills, rock bass, and yellow perch are the mainstay of the
fishery. Northern pike, although not abundant, grow to a very large size
and are caught primarily by ice anglers. Each winter, at least a couple
of pike over 20 pounds are landed. The largemouth bass population in the
lake is very good. The bass populations support one or more organized
bass tournaments every week, from the end of May through October.
Rainbow trout have provided an excellent year-round fishery ever since
stocking began. Rainbows as large as 20 pounds have been landed. Landlocked
Atlantic salmon have added a new dimension to the coldwater fishery. Developed
primarily as a broodstock source for the State of Michigan, this highly
unique program has been well accepted. This species is easily caught,
so new regulations designed to protect broodfish have been developed.
We have heard of few lake trout being caught in recent years, although
they are still present. Fall broodstock collections in 1989 netted 14
lake trout which were mostly 7- and 10-year old fish (10-15 pounds each).
It is known that rainbow trout, Atlantic salmon, smelt, suckers, and
perhaps brown trout all utilize Prairieville Creek as a spawning site.
Rainbow trout reproduction is quite successful, as indicated by the healthy
resident population of small rainbows in the creek. A few naturally produced
salmon have also been found in the creek. Smelt sustained themselves for
3 decades by spawning in and near Prairieville Creek.
Creel surveys were conducted at Gull Lake during June-August 1986, and
January-September 1987. Results of those surveys will be presented at
a future date in a Fisheries Division Technical Report. Preliminary results
indicate bluegill, rock bass, largemouth bass, and yellow perch sustain
the fishery. Catch rates ranged from a high of 0.492/hour for bluegill
to a low of 0.001/hour for rainbow trout in 1987. Highlights of the 1987
survey include: over 64,000 angler hours expended, and over 63,000 fish
harvested. During January and February, over 1,150 illegally kept Atlantic
salmon were recorded, along with 13,583 Atlantics caught and released.
(Only 25,556 Atlantics were stocked in 1986). More than 80% of the fish
harvested were bluegill, rock bass, largemouth bass, and yellow perch.
Currently, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources manages the coldwater
fishery more intensively than the warmwater fishery. Atlantic salmon and
rainbow trout are stocked each year as spring yearlings. The number stocked
per acre has varied, with new rates to be implemented in spring of 1991.
Rainbow trout will be stocked at a rate of 11/acre, while Atlantic salmon
will be stocked at a rate of 9/acre. Regulations for rainbow trout are
typical (year-round season, five trout/day, 10-inch minimum size limit).
Atlantic salmon regulations have been changed to protect the fish which
are used as the state's brood source. The size limit for Atlantic salmon
has been raised from 18 inches to 25 inches; the daily bag limit has been
reduced from 2/day to 1/day; and the fishing season is the last Saturday
in April through September 30.
Changes in water quality parameters are being investigated by Michigan
State University. In progress now is a study assessing changes in the
phytoplankton and zooplankton communities due to the installation of the
The management goals of Gull Lake are fourfold:
1. Develop a trophy landlocked Atlantic salmon fishery, yet maintain
enough adult fish to supply propagation needs. Mature salmon are netted
and stripped of eggs and sperm each fall. Gull Lake is the state's designated
broodstock lake for this species.
2. Expand the rainbow trout fishery and try to regain the fishery present
a decade ago.
3. Reintroduce smelt to provide a winter ice fishery.
4. Maintain the good growth rates of warmwater species and their good
Regulation and stocking changes have been implemented to attain goals
#1 and #2. Attempts to procure adult smelt and smelt eggs for stocking
have begun. Obstacles to attainment of goal #3 include tight budgets for
purchase of adults and lack of adult spawning runs in Great Lakes tributaries.
An attempt to get smelt and smelt eggs during spring 1990 was a complete
failure due to the lack of significant runs anywhere in the state. Stocking
of smelt is scheduled for 3 years in a row at 10 adults/acre. Attainment
of goal #4 will depend on the careful monitoring of game fish growth rates
and forage analysis.
We believe that through careful management of the coldwater fishery the
good warmwater fishery will be maintained (goal #4). Our stocking rates
for trout and salmon are almost half of the recommended rates. This action
alone should prevent a major loss of forage and collapse of the fishery.
The following recommendations can help accomplish our management goals:
1. A full fisheries survey should be conducted at least every
2. Develop better educational signs to help anglers differentiate between
salmon and trout species. A cooperative venture with the local Trout Unlimited
Club is being pursued under this recommendation.
3. A program to evaluate survival of salmon and trout, and angler utilization,
should be implemented as soon as possible. This should be in the form
of some type of creel survey.
4. Yearly monitoring of Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout stocks through
fall netting should continue.
Report completed: November 19, 1990
Carbine, W. F. 1941. A sixth examination of Michigan lakes in which plantings
of the Great Lakes emerald shiner (Notropis atherinoides) have
been made. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Department of Conservation,
Fisheries Research Report 715, Ann Arbor.
Perry, L. E., and C. J. D. Brown. 1942. A fisheries survey of Gull Lake,
Kalamazoo and Barry counties. Michigan Department of Natural Resources,
Department of Conservation, Fisheries Research Report 725, Ann Arbor.
Tague, D. F. and G. H. Lauff. Gull Lake - past, present, future. Michigan
State University, W. K. Kellogg Biological Station, Battle Creek.
Table 1.- Number, weight, and length range of fishes collected
from Gull Lake, May and October 1989.
Table 2.-Mean length and age at capture and mean growth index
of game species in Gull Lake, May 1989. Numbers in parentheses are from
data collected in May 1976, by Michigan State University.
1Mean growth index-inch increment over or under state average
Table 3.-Estimated age frequency (percent) of six species of fish
captured from Gull Lake in May of 1989.
Appendix 1.-Referenced taxonomic list of Gull Lake fish.
Compiled by: W. C. Johnson, Kellogg Biological Station.
Appendix 2.-Fish stocked in Gull Lake1 (A=adult,
f=fingerling, ff=fall fingerling, no designation=yearling)
1Additional stocking: Bluegill, largemouth bass, yellow perch-1930's
and 1940's; emerald shiners-1933 and 1934 (160,000); smelt-1950-1953;
splake-1965; brown trout-1964 and 1966.
Last Update: 08/06/02
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