Walleye populations excellent in natural, stocked lakes
Ice-out across Northwest Minnesota has occurred two to three weeks ahead of normal, even setting records on some lakes. All of the snowpack was gone by the first of April with little new runoff entering the streams and rivers. Fish spawning activity is advanced one to two weeks ahead of normal. All river levels have crested and are expected to fall below flood stage very soon. Unlike some spring fishing seasons, rivers and streams in the region should be very fishable for the opener. Dependent entirely on a dramatic change in the aforementioned weather pattern, a good opener is anticipated for 2010.
Walleye populations in our natural walleye lakes and many of our stocked lakes have excellent abundance and fish of a variety of sizes. Various strong year-classes of walleye are common across most of our natural walleye lakes and stocking efforts have contributed to good success on others. Walleye from the 2005 and 2006 year-classes (15-19 inches) will comprise the bread and butter fish from most of our primary walleye lakes.
Lakes that stand out from recent assessments in the Bemidji Area are part of the Cass Lake Chain, connected by the Mississippi River.
Wolf Lake (1,094 acres): Located between the Cities of Cass Lake and Bemidji on the County line between Beltrami and Hubbard Counties, this fishery functions as a part of the larger Cass Lake Chain. Access is off the West side of the lake, just north of the County line. The Wolf Lake walleye population is maintained by natural reproduction with significant spawning runs up the Mississippi River. Walleye were sampled in 2009 at nearly 16 fish per gill net. Fish from 2005, '06 and '07 made up the majority of the catch, with lengths of about 15.5, 13.5 and 11.5 respectively. This should provide good walleye fishing for the 2010 season and the next few years.
Northern pike were sampled at moderate density (6/gill net) with fish up to 34 inches. Yellow perch and black crappie provide the majority of panfish angling.
Lake Andrusia (1,510 acres): Andrusia is located directly downstream of Wolf Lake and upstream of Cass, connected by the Mississippi River. Public access is on the north end of the lake off County Road 12. Walleye were sampled in Andrusia at just over 13 per gill net, with the same three year-classes dominating the catch as Wolf Lake.
Detroit Lakes Area
Winter kill was not a significant factor in susceptible area lakes this year. Consequently, even the shallow lakes that typically support fisheries in between winter kills should be acceptable options for angling in 2010.
Anglers are reminded that there are nine area lakes and one stream with experimental or special fishing regulations. These waters include Cotton, Eunice, Floyd, Little Cormorant, Little Floyd, Little Toad, Maud, Melissa, and Sallie lakes, as well as the Otter Tail River. Lake Sallie (1,211 acres) is located three miles southwest of Detroit Lakes. The public access is on the northeast shore near the DNR headquarters. Lake Sallie has been the site of a state walleye egg-taking site since 1912. Consequently, walleyes are stocked annually. Walleye catch rates in 2009 were good. The average length sampled was 15.9 inches but good numbers of several sizes of walleye from 7.2 to 27.6 inches were observed. A relatively strong 2004 year class made up 36% of sampled walleye in 2009. Though these fish occupy a significant portion of the population, they are often masked by abundant small walleyes, especially during the ice fishing season.
Lake Melissa (1,830 acres) is just downstream from Sallie and is located about six miles southwest of Detroit Lakes. Melissa is also a fairly round lake with a good amount of underwater structure. Historically, the lake supports a diverse fishery, with acceptable catch rates for several popular species including walleye, northern pike, bluegill, and largemouth bass, a modest population of black crappie, and an occasional muskellunge. Despite annual walleye stocking, catch rates were down somewhat in 2009, but the average walleye length was identical to that in Sallie at 15.9 inches.
Fergus Falls Area
As of early April, area lakes are still ice covered, however, given the condition of the ice and forecast of warm weather and rain it is possible walleye spawning may be a week or two early this year. Anglers may be faced with late post-spawn conditions and walleye may be located in areas typical of late May or early June. That said, weather dependent fishing may be good as most walleye will have recovered from spawning and may be focused on feeding. Anglers can expect good fishing as several strong natural year classes and supplemental walleye stocking have established high walleye populations in some of the area's lakes.
North Lida (5,564 acres) is in northwest Otter Tail County about five miles east of Pelican Rapids. The walleye net catch in 2009 was 8 per net with an average size of 16 inches. Several good year classes are present and should provide anglers very good fishing this year and into the future. There is a walleye special regulation on North and South Lida with all from 17-26 inches must be immediately released with one over 26 inches allowed in possession.
Star Lake (4,721 acres) is in north central Otter Tail County about 5 miles west of Dent. A 2009 survey sampled eight walleye per net set with an average size of 14 inches. Besides providing consistent walleye fishing, Star Lake offers excellent sunfish angling with fish up to 10 inches present. Anglers are reminded of a sunfish special fishing regulation of a possession limit of 10.
Park Rapids Area
Anglers should remember Park Rapids area lakes with special or experimental regulations that differ from state-wide regulations. There are more restrictive regulations for northern pike on the fifth, sixth, eight, ninth and 10th Crow Wing Lakes, Lake George, Big Mantrap, and Blueberry (Wadena County) to try to improve their size. Big Sand and Kabekona Lakes have more restrictive walleye regulations, and Big Mantrap has a more restrictive crappie regulation to try to improve populations of those species.
Upper and Lower Bottle Lakes (465 and 652 acres) have maximum depths of 55 and 110 feet. They are about eight miles northeast of Park Rapids. A state-owned public access is located on the north end of Upper Bottle Lake, but it may be difficult for larger boats. Additional access is available off County Road 40, through Emma Lake and the Sand River to Lower Bottle. During population assessments of the lakes in 2008, walleye gill net catch rates were the highest of any sample in Lower Bottle. Strong year classes of walleye were observed from both stocked and non-stocked years, suggesting that stocking and natural reproduction are both contributing to the lakes' walleye populations. Walleyes in the 2008 sample were well distributed from 12 to 22 inches, and individuals were collected up to 26 inches. There are also good populations of northern pike, bluegill, sunfish, and bass in the Bottle Lakes.
Fish Hook Lake (1,632 acres) can offer excellent fishing just north of the city of Park Rapids. The lake has a maximum depth of 76 feet and provides a variety of habitat for multiple species of game fish. There is a hard sand ramp at a county-owned access 1.5 miles north of Park Rapids on U.S. Highway 71.