State of the lakes
WORTHINGTON — As the 2014 Minnesota fishing opener got under way this past weekend, those casting a line in the water had fewer rough fish to contend with.
Partial winter kills on several area lakes, including a significant fish kill on Bingham Lake in Cottonwood County, took away some of the common carp, channel catfish and freshwater drum (sheepshead) from some of southwest Minnesota’s shallow prairie lakes.
Ryan Doorenbos, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Windom Area Fisheries Supervisor, said winter kills on area lakes weren’t quite as significant as expected.
“We didn’t get substantial amounts of snow on the ice,” said Doorenbos. Snow blocks light penetration from getting through the ice and prohibits photosynthesis.
“We did get record level ice thicknesses, which also inhibits light penetration,” he added. “I suspect that played a larger part in the abundance of fish kills in our area.”
As ice came off the lakes this spring, Doorenbos said his agency received several calls from individuals reporting dead fish. Those observations, including identification of the lake and the species present, helped the DNR follow up on reports.
“Between the Windom and Waterville areas, we were probably hit the hardest in terms of winter kill in southern Minnesota,” he added.
In all, 25 lakes in Doorenbos’ district suffered varying degrees of winter kill, “which is fairly substantial,” he said.
“One overriding theme is that a lot of times what we saw were a lot of dead carp and some dead bullheads as well,” he shared. “We’re obviously blessed in our area with plenty of carp, and when we see those invasive species like common carp dead, it can be nothing but a good thing.”
Bingham Lake was one of just two lakes where complete eradication of carp is believed to have occurred this past winter.
“We did some follow-up netting and electrofishing out there and we did not see common carp in the basin,” Doorenbos said. “We also saw significant dead bullheads and pretty much all species.”
Some bullheads did survive and because of their proliferation, Doorenbos said restocking efforts have already begun on Bingham Lake, with pre-spawn perch and one-third to one-half pound walleyes released this spring.
“There’s at least some teeth in the water to eat some smaller bullheads,” he said.
Walleye fry and bluegill will likely be released in the lake as well.
“As disappointing as it is to see gamefish succumb to winter kill … now it’s an opportunity to start the lake over,” Doorenbos said. “Hopefully we’ll see improved water quality and improved aquatic vegetation in the lake.”
Bingham Lake should be back to a decent angling population within a couple of years, he added.
Local lakes, including Okabena and Ocheda, saw minimal winter fish kills. Doorenbos said he took reports of dead catfish, as well as sheephead and crappie on Okabena, while Ocheda had dead carp, bullheads and some walleye.
A week ago, Doorenbos and his crew did some trap netting on Lake Ocheda and discovered healthy populations of common carp, northern pike, perch and walleye.
“That tells you the magnitude of the fish kill out there,” he said. “We’re looking for presence and absence of fish. It’s obvious right away to the severity of a kill when you get minimal amounts of fish and species in a net. It was not obvious that (winter kill) was too substantial out there.”
The same is true for West Graham Lake in northern Nobles County. While several species of dead fish were reported after ice out, netting revealed walleye, catfish, crappie and carp.
Restocking is not planned on either Lake Okabena or Lake Ocheda this year, with Lake Okabena to be surveyed this summer for fish species and populations.
In the fall of the year, Doorenbos said the DNR does a lot of fingerling stocking on area lakes, including walleye fry, walleye frylings and walleye fingerlings.
Despite some losses of game fish on area lakes, it’s expected to still be a fairly decent fishing season.
“All in all, I would say that our populations of fish in the area look pretty good,” Doorenbos said.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.