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The Mid-Lake Reef Complex (MLRC), a large area of deep (> 40 m) reefs, was a major site where indigenous lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) in Lake Michigan aggregated during spawning. As part of an effort to restore Lake Michigan's lake trout, which were extirpated in the 1950s, yearling lake trout have been released over the MLRC since the mid-1980s and fall gill net censuses began to show large numbers of lake trout in spawning condition beginning about 1999. We report the first evidence of viable egg deposition and successful lake trout fry production at these deep reefs. Because the area's existing bathymetry and habitat were too poorly known for a priori selection of sampling sites, we used hydroacoustics to locate concentrations of large fish in the fall; fish were congregating around slopes and ridges. Subsequent observations via unmanned submersible confirmed the large, fish to be lake trout. Our technological objectives were driven by biological objectives of locating where lake trout spawn, where lake trout fry were produced, and what fishes ate lake trout eggs and fry. The unmanned submersibles were equipped with a suction sampler and electroshocker to sample eggs deposited on the reef, draw out and occasionally catch emergent fry and collect egg predators (slimy sculpin Cottus cognatus). We observed slimy sculpin to eat unusually high numbers of lake trout eggs. Our qualitative approaches are a first step toward quantitative assessments of the importance of lake trout spawning on the MLRC.
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Evidence of Lake Trout reproduction at Lake Michigan's mid-lake reef complex