Super seven local lakes for the fishing opener

May 10, 2010

by Chris Schultz

Every year the challenge of picking seven good local lakes to try for the fishing opener seems to get harder, especially if you’re trying to satisfy a local angler determined to catch walleye in an area that’s dominated by small, shallow, fertile lakes that produce a lot of sunfish, largemouth bass, and northern pike.

This year’s super seven includes a mix of our area’s best walleye holes and a few lakes that could be a boom for catching northern pike. Before we get to them, here are a few things to remember.

Make sure you have a new 2010 Minnesota Angling License; get your boat and trailer ready to go and in good shape so you can move fast at the boat landing; read the 2010 Minnesota Fishing Regulations Handbook; and put safety first, check your life jackets, ropes, emergency gear, first aid kit and more.

It’s a great time to run through the first aid kit and fire extinguisher in your boat. These items often expire and need to be replaced.

To get started, the first lake on this year’s list, and in no particular order, is:

1) Pelican, near the city of Monticello – even with all the controversy surrounding Pelican, currently, the lake is still a tremendous fishery.
You may never catch a walleye, but northern pike, and some big ones, are abundant.
Cast the shoreline with a spoon or Rapala, try still fishing with a sucker minnow and when you catch one on this big lake, stick to that area and keep trying.
Get to the landing early, before sunrise, or you might have trouble getting on the water before all the panfish anglers do.

2) Maple Lake, near the city of Maple Lake – I don’t know much about this 777-acre lake in Wright County other than all the current lake surveys indicate a huge number of small- to mid-size northern pike.
The lake is at an historic high for northern pike and the pike angling, although they may be small, should be super.
The lake is also full of largemouth bass.
Troll the weed lines, learn how to remove y-bones, and eat broiled northern pike with butter and little lemon juice.

3) Ann, a small lake just south of Howard Lake – it can be a walleye sleeper on the opener, especially when the weather has been cool.
Cast crank baits along the shoreline at night or drift across the rock pile near the middle of the lake with fatheads.
Ann is one of those hot and cold lakes for walleye; if the fish aren’t biting, don’t spend all day on the lake trying.

4) Belle Lake in Meeker County northwest of Hutchinson – Belle is 826 acres of good walleye fishing.
In 2008, test nets for walleye were good, at 7.8 fish per net, with fish averaging 16.6 inches.
Although there is a lot of yellow perch forage in the lake, the bite could still be good.
Fish shallow and near the creek on the west side.
Wader fishing at night can be the best bet on Belle.

5) Hook Lake, 327 acres south of Dassel – it is another one of those lakes that could be a sleeper this year.
Quite a while back, in the late ‘80s, Hook was hotter than a pistol for great eating-size walleye.
I’ve heard a few rumors that could be the case again this year.
Fish with slip bobbers and minnows just southeast of the big island near the middle of the lake.
The landing is on the south side.

6) Star Lake, 557 acres, south west of Litchfield – Star is one of the lakes where you may catch a walleye, but is a tried-and-true northern pike lake.
In 2007, test netting for northern pike was the highest ever recorded on the lake, with 11.3 per net, averaging 23.7 inches in length with big fish mixed in.
Star can provide a lunker or two.
The landing is on the southeast corner.

7) Washington, 2,639 acres, in Meeker County – it is always on this list, is one of, if not the, top producer of walleye on the opener in our area.
The lake had a great year class of fish in 2007, and the walleye bite this year should be good.
Get there early, fish in the middle of the crowd, and use a slow presentation.
Landings are on the south and east side.
When you catch your limit of walleye, cast small spinners for crappie near shoreline docks on the west side.

Good luck fishing and take a kid with; he or she will have fun and so will you.

Waverly Gun Club to host several events

Summer trapshooting league for individuals or teams started Thursday, May 6 (6:30 p.m.) and goes all summer long.
Ladies Only Night is set for the second Tuesday each month May through October, 6:30 to 9 p.m., beginning Tuesday, May 11 (not May 13).

The club will provide 22-caliber guns, pistols, and rifles, targets and ammunition. Participants may bring their own. A certified safety officer will be present and instruction available upon request. Funds are available through a NRA grant.

For more information, call Al Moy at (612) 889-4423, Ken Reinert at (612) 308-9259, or Russ Johnson (763) 675-3527.

The handgun league started Wednesday, May 5, and will go for four sessions, May 5, 12, 19 and 26. It usually starts at 6:30 p.m.

For additional information about the gun club, go online to www.waverlygunclub.com. The club is also on Facebook.

Public workshops coming up
From the DNR

A pair of public workshops concerning the DN Parks and Legacy Plan will take place Tuesday, June 8 for Hennepin/Carver and Thursday, June 10 for Willmar.

The Hennepin/Carver workshop will take place at Bryant Lake Park from 7 to 9 p.m.

The Willmar workshop will take place at Ridgewater College from 7 to 9 p.m.

The meetings will provide citizens with a chance to influence the Parks and Trails Legacy Plan that will guide funding decisions for regional and state parks and trails.

The plan will offer a vision, set priorities, and develop funding criteria.

The plan will also identify gaps and needs in the current regional and state system, and make recommendations to address them.

It will be presented to the Minnesota Legislature by February 15, 2011.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is partnering with the Citizens League, a non-partisan, non-profit organization, in the workshop planning effort.

People from all walks of life are encouraged to participate in the workshops, especially those who currently don’t use the regional or state parks and trails system.

The workshops are scheduled from 7-9 p.m. and will focus on vision, priorities, and future opportunities.

The meetings will provide ample opportunity for discussion and questions.

“Everyone who attends will have an opportunity to provide their insights,” said Courtland Nelson, DNR Parks and Trails Division director. “Now is the time for Minnesotans to share their ideas and dreams for parks and trails for the next 25 years.”

Area fishing reports
From the DNR

West Metro Area
(Daryl Ellison, area manager, 952-826-6756)

• Walleye stocking that began in 2005 on 169-acre Cedar Lake, the northernmost basin in the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, is paying off.

The walleye gill net catch rate has increased to 3.8/net in 2009 – the highest measure of abundance ever recorded there.

Tiger muskie are also present.

Shore fishing is popular in the park along the northwest shore of Cedar Lake.

A carry-in access is located in the same park.

•Lake Harriet, a 335-acre lake located in south Minneapolis, is primarily managed as a muskellunge and walleye fishery.

A boat launch operated by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is located on the northwest corner of the lake.

There are two fishing piers and ample shore fishing opportunities as the lake is encircled by a bike path.

Lake Harriet is stocked with walleye fingerlings, yearlings, adults or a combination every year.

In 2009, walleye abundance was moderate compared with other metro lakes and the size structure shows 52 percent were 15 inches or longer, 18 percent were 20 inches or longer and 7 percent were 25 inches or longer.

In a spring assessment of muskellunge, 20 were netted averaging 40.4 inches and 15.4 lbs.

Seventy percent were 38 inches or longer, and 35 percent were 42 inches or longer.

The largest measured 48.4 inches and 27.6 pounds.

The adult muskellunge population was estimated at 0.33 fish/acre (110 total fish).

Northern pike relative abundance is low (1.4/gill net) and this has previously been the case in Lake Harriet, however, mean size of northern pike was relatively high at 28 inches and 5.9 pounds.

Montrose Area
(Paul Diedrich, area manager, 763-675-3301)

• Walleye fry stocking has been successful in providing a walleye fishery in the Briggs Chain of Lakes (Briggs, Julia and Rush Lakes), with 2009 test netting showing significant catch rate increases.

At the same time, northern pike populations have declined. Walleye gill net catches for the Briggs Chain of Lakes ranged from 8-11/gill net.

These numbers represent the historic high catch for each lake.

Small fish less than 12 inches comprised a substantial portion of the catch for the three lakes.

Continued opportunities for walleye angling will be present as these fish mature.

Northern pike declined significantly in Briggs and Julia Lakes, but not Rush Lake.

Historically, gill net catches have been highest in Julia Lake.

Briggs Lake, which had the lowest gill net catch, had the highest percentage of northern pike greater than 24 inches, at 43 percent.

Rush Lake, with the highest gill net catch, had the lowest percentage of northern pike greater than 24 inches, at 4 percent.

Catches of panfish were common especially for largemouth bass and black crappie.

A sample of 50 largemouth collected by electrofishing showed that 12-inch fish were common.

The average size of black crappie was small in each lake, ranging from 6 to 8 inches.

Catches of bluegill were relatively low on Briggs and Rush Lakes, though still within the range of expected values.

Bluegill were above the normal range on Julia, but of the lowest average size, at four inches.

• Maple Lake, a 777-acre recreational development lake in Wright County, is popular for all types of recreational use.

A 2009 fisheries survey found that largemouth bass, northern pike and bluegill sunfish were abundant, while black crappie and walleye were less common.

Maple Lake’s reputation for largemouth bass is borne out by a 2009 electrofishing survey.

The catch was twice the average rate for Wright County area lakes and greater than that reported previously for Maple Lake.

Largemouth bass ranged in length from five to 19 inches, with an average length of 12 inches.

About half the sample consisted of fish larger than 12 inches.

The catch of northern pike represents a historic high and a significant increase since the previous survey.

Fish ranged in length from 12 to 30 inches with an average of 20 inches, and 12 percent greater than 24 inches.

Bluegill catches were similar to previous surveys and within the range of expected values for similar lakes.

Overall, bluegill ranged in length from 3 to 7.8 inches, with an average length of 6.5 inches.

Historically, bluegill have been abundant and small.

The black crappie catch was below the normal range for lakes like Maple Lake.

Black crappie ranged in length from 6.6 to 8.3 inches with an average length of 7.6 inches.

The walleye catch was less than hoped for, despite several years of stocking by both DNR and the lake association.

Maple Lake exhibits a pattern typical for many area lakes – high northern pike abundance, and low yellow perch and walleye numbers.

Still, walleye ranged in length from 12 to 26 inches with an average of 18 inches.

Hutchinson Area
(320) 234-2550

• General Outlook for Hutchinson Area: Winterkill was not a significant factor on larger lakes this year though shallow lakes experienced some winterkill.

Water levels are mostly normal in lakes, and streams are slowly returning to normal levels.
Ice went off area lakes about the same time as last year.

Current and forecasted air temperatures are warmer this spring than they were last spring and water temperatures are going to increase accordingly.

This year’s warmer spring could contribute to an earlier bite on the bigger/deeper lakes and consistent action on the smaller/shallower lakes.

Early season crappie fishing could come and go rather quickly.

• Washington Lake (2,639 acres) in Meeker County was netted in 2008 and the walleye population looked good.

The gill net catch rate was 17.8/net with fish averaging 13.2 inches and many were in the 14 to 16 inch range.

The 2007 year-class was exceptionally strong, but only averaged 10 inches in late July of 2008.

Northern pike numbers were on the low side (1.6/net), but fish up to 34 inches were sampled. Opportunities for bluegill and black crappie also exist.

• Stella Lake (553 acres) in Meeker County was netted in 2008 and the walleye population looked good.

The gill net catch rate was 19.9/net with fish averaging 10.8 inches due to the strong 2007 year-class.

Fair numbers of 13 to 15 inch fish were also sampled.

Fair numbers of northern pike were gill netted (3.8/net), with fish averaging 21.3 inches in length.

The longest northern pike sampled was 33.7 inches.

Bluegill and black crappie opportunities also exist.

• Star Lake (557 acres) in Meeker County was netted in 2007 and the northern pike population looked excellent.

The gill net catch rate was the highest ever recorded for Star at 11.3/net with fish averaging 23.7 inches in length and the largest at 37 inches.

Good to excellent numbers of black crappie were netted from 5.4 to 12.4 inches in length, with fish averaging 7.1 inches.

Moderate numbers of bluegill were also present with some fish exceeding 8 inches.

Walleye opportunities also exist.

• Belle Lake (826 acres) in Meeker County was netted in 2008 and the walleye population looked good.

The gill net catch rate was 7.8/net with fish averaging 16.6 inches.

Fair numbers of northern pike were gill netted with fish averaging 26.2 inches in length.

Opportunities also exist for black crappie.

Ice-out trap netting in 2009 showed that there were extremely high numbers of small yellow perch present.

This large amount of forage could make the bite tough in 2009.

• Other Lakes: Ripley Lake (558 acres), in Meeker County, had a good crappie and bluegill bite last winter, as did Cedar Lake (1,924 acres) in McLeod County.

Hook (327 acres) and Swan (343) in McLeod County both offer opportunities for walleye and black crappie.

Hanska Lake (1,773 acres) in Brown County should also offer some good early season action for walleye.

Public water accesses ready; low lake levels persist
From the DNR

Boaters will find favorable launch conditions at most public water accesses for the May 15 fishing opener.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) crews have been repairing launch ramps and installing docks.

“The ramps are ready for public use,” said DNR Northeast Parks and Trails Supervisor Les Ollila. “However, water levels and ramp conditions may vary depending on the specific access site.”

Low water levels can make launching and retrieving a boat more challenging.

Boaters should be aware that portions of central, east and northeast Minnesota lakes have water levels one to two feet below average.

“When launching boats on lakes with low water levels, some concrete ramps may not be long enough,” said Nancy Stewart, DNR Public Water Access Program coordinator. “It may not be possible to back far enough into the water to float the boat off the trailer.

In the worst case scenario, a boater could potentially damage their equipment if trailer tires fall off the end of the concrete ramp.”

Stewart offers the following tips for launching boats in low water conditions:

• Check the ramp and the firmness of the gravel at the end of the concrete ramp.

• Wear hip boots or waders and help guide boat into water.

• Watch for obstructions in lake.

• Lower the motor only if there is enough clearance.

• Have a back-up plan in case traditional fishing opener lake access is too shallow.

• Expect delays at public access sites and be patient with boaters who are having difficulty launching.

Boaters who encounter problems at DNR public access sites can contact their local DNR office or the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367.

Outdoor notes

• Cool weather slowed the morel mushroom hunt.

Look for good hunting right after a few days of rain. It should still be good next week.

• Be courteous and not competitive when you’re at the landing or on the water fishing this season.

• Goslings have hatched and will be seen crossing roads in our area soon.

• Hope for a warm, dry spring that leads to a good pheasant hatch.

• Expect the sunfish spawn to start early this year and expect good fishing over Memorial Day weekend.