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Protecting Northern Michigan's ​Water Resources

Torch Lake

Torch Lake is one of the most extraordinary lakes in Michigan. Its surface area is second largest in Michigan, but its depth (about 300 feet, depending on the map) gives it by far the greatest depth and water volume of any inland lake in the state.

18,473 acres

OF SURFACE AREA

41 miles

OF SHORELINE

302 feet

MAX DEPTH

Overview of Torch Lake

Watershed

Primary Inflows

Primary Outflows

Mouth

Surface Area

18,473 acres

Shoreline

41 miles

Maximum Depth

302 feet

Length

About Torch Lake:

Torch Lake is one of the most extraordinary lakes in Michigan. Its surface area is second largest in Michigan, but its great depth (about 300 feet, depending on the map) gives it by far the greatest depth and water volume of any inland lake in the state.  As a result, Torch Lake has the longest flushing rate of any lake in the Elk River Chain of Lakes. Often, it does not freeze because of the large amount of heat stored in its vast volume.  It is also Michigan’s longest inland lake. With a steady 35 mile per hour north or south wind, waves up to 4.5 feet high can develop.

Formerly a deep, fjord-like bay of ancient Lake Michigan, Torch Lake became an inland lake when a sand bar formed across the mouth of the bay (now the lake’s northwest end). The shoreline consists mostly of cobble-sized rocks. However, large areas of sand are present in some locations, most notably at the north and south ends. Bottom sediments in the deepest waters are grey or white in color due to the deposition of marl with only low levels of organic material. Almost everywhere, the lake has a wide, sandy, shallow region paralleling the shore, which ends in a steep drop-off. Aquatic plants are sparse, with muskgrass (or Chara) being the most abundant. Pondweeds, water milfoil, and wild celery (or tapegrass) are found in only a few locations.

Named tributaries include the Clam River (Torch Lake’s major inlet), and Spencer, Wilkinson, and Eastport Creeks. All of the other tributaries are very small and apparently unnamed. The Torch River flows out of the south end of the lake. 

Torch Lake is noted for its coldwater fishery, including lake trout and whitefish, both of which are self-sustaining through natural reproduction.  Burbot are common in a deep-water community association with the trout, whitefish, and deep-water sculpin. Smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and rock bass, and muskellunge are commonly fished for in Torch Lake, and Torch Lake is known for large muskies and whitefish. Fishing pressure is generally considered to be light. Because of its unproductive nature, Torch Lake does not yield large numbers of fish. 

Fish Consumption Advisories have been listed for five species of its fish: brown trout, lake trout, lake whitefish, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch. High concentrations of mercury, PolyChlorinated Biphenyls (PCB’s), and dioxins—all toxic byproducts of industrialization—are the reasons for the advisories. It has recently been advised to never eat lake trout from Torch Lake, even for a healthy male. More information is available in the link under Additional Resources below.

Monitoring and Research:

Torch Lake is monitored every three years through the Watershed Council’s Comprehensive Water Quality Monitoring (CWQM) Program for dissolved oxygen, specific conductivity, pH, nitrate-nitrogen, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and chloride levels.

Water transparency, chlorophyll-a, and water temperature are also monitored in Torch Lake each summer by volunteers as part of the Watershed Council’s Volunteer Lake Monitoring (VLM) Program.

The Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed Plan Implementation Team meets regularly and is working to protect the lakes in the Chain.

This lake is monitored through the State’s Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program (CLMP).

Torch Lake Protection Alliance
Torch Lake Protection Alliance
Torch Lake Protection Alliance (TLPA) was established in 1994 to provide a unifying voice for people who regard the preservation of Torch Lake as a top priority, enabling current and future generations to enjoy the responsible use of this geological jewel.
P.O. Box 706, Bellaire, Michigan, 49615
https://tlpa.co/
Torch Conservation Center
Torch Conservation Center
Torch Conservation Center, Inc is a local nonprofit organization promoting stewardship in the Torch Lake Watershed through freshwater education and land conservation to ensure a sustainable future for Torch Lake.
P.O. Box 1142, Bellaire, Michigan, 49612
Three Lakes Association
Three Lakes Association
The mission of the Three Lakes Association is to provide leadership to preserve, protect, and improve the environmental quality of the Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed for all generations with emphasis on Lake Bellaire, Clam Lake, Torch Lake and their tributaries.
P.O. Box 689, Bellaire, Michigan, 49615
231-412-7551
The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay
The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay
The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay is the only organization solely dedicated to the mission of protecting and enhancing the quality of the Grand Traverse Bay watershed and all its waterways.
13170 S. West Bay Shore Drive Suite 102, Traverse City, Michigan, 49684
231.935.1514

Additional Resources:

 View an interactive map, including public access sites, at Michigan Fishweb.

Learn about safely eating fish from this lake in the Michigan Fish Consumption Advisory.

Information about Threatened, Endangered, and Special Concern species in this lake’s watershed is available on the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) website.

A wide variety of maps for this area are available online at the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) Data Resources page.

See additional resources on our Aquavist page.

TitleLink
Comprehensive Water Quality Monitoring (CWQM)
2022 Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed Management Plan
2021 Torch Lake Aquatic Plant Survey
2021 Torch Lake Aquatic Plant
2017 Torch Lake Shoreline Survey
2014-2015 Elk River Invasive Species Monitoring Project Report
2010 Lake Bellaire, Clam Lake, Torch Lake Shoreline Algal Survey
2010 Elk River Chain of Lakes Profile CWQM

Shoreline Survey:

Elk River Chain of Lakes Shoreline Survey

Project Summary During the summers of 2016 and 2017, the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council led a coordinated effort to conduct a shoreline survey for 15 Lakes in the Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed. The surveys were meant to document conditions that could impact water quality, including the

View GIS Map »

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