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Outdoors: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

SCOTT RALL Daily Globe outdoors columnist Life is full of great sayings. I use them in this space all the time. My favorite saying for today is that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Two people can look at the same object and have very diff...

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Submitted photo Pictured is the columnist with a nice-looking northern pike speared in Fulda Lake.

SCOTT RALL

Daily Globe outdoors columnist

Life is full of great sayings.  I use them in this space all the time.  My favorite saying for today is that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Two people can look at the same object and have very different opinions of what they see.  I was up on Fulda Lake last Saturday and did something I have never done before in southwest Minnesota.  I speared a 28-inch pike in from a spear house I was sharing with Gordy Heitkamp who is also from Worthington.

How this opportunity took more than a few years and lots of money -- not the fact that I speared a fish but the fact that the lake had water clarity good enough to do it.

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It was several years back that the City of Fulda and a whole host of other partners undertook a full restoration of Fulda Lake.  The lake was just like every other lake in southwest Minnesota in that it had terrible water quality and very high turbidity. The lake turned green and smelled just like almost every other lake within 100 miles.

The cause of this is well documented, and one of the main culprits is the common carp.  These fish were actually stocked in our area lakes in the 1880s and were for their fast growth rate and as a protein source for consumption.  What ended up happening was that these fish multiplied to such great numbers that they became the greatest impediment to clean water.  

Common carp are bottom dwellers and they root up the bottom looking for food.  This activity uproots submergent vegetation and when this happens the lake turns into a giant mud puddle.

Fulda Lake was drained to the lowest level possible and then the remaining water was poisoned by a chemical called rotenone, and all of the fish in the lake were killed off.  

It’s now a big empty pond. The dam was rebuilt so that the water levels could be controlled and an electric fish barrier was installed below the lake’s outlet.  This makes it much more difficult for common carp to swim upstream from West Graham Lake and re-infest Fulda Lake.

This lake was a great candidate for the restoration because it is located in the top of the watershed.  What this means is that there are no other lakes, rivers or streams uphill.  

This then eliminates the ability of undesirable carp to move downstream and into Fulda Lake. That means that fish have only one way in and one way out.  

There are many lakes that are fed by any number of seasonal and year round water sources.  The more inlets a lake has, the more difficult it is to keep carp out. I have seen carp live in Jack Creek in six inches of mud for months at a time and still survive to move into a lake where they are not wanted. Carp can and do move to places you would think they could never reach.

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With the carp gone and with no way for them to re-enter, the DNR restocked this lake with only desirable fish species.  Panfish like bluegills, perch, northern pike, walleye, large mouth bass and others now call this lake home. With very few carp to stir up the bottom, the lake is gin clear.  I was in a dark house in six feet of water and you could see the bottom like I was looking through a glass of tap water from my home on Lexington Ave. in Worthington.

There are no other lakes that I know of like this on in our area.  It is truly an example of a healthy lake. Water is clear, little to no algae blooms in late summer, and there is lots of submergent (underwater) vegetation and some emergent (above water) vegetation and healthy fish and aquatic life populations.

Many people have never seen or experienced what a healthy lake really looks like. We have had so many lakes that have been so degraded for so many decades that many folks think a lake with no vegetation and four-inch water clarity is what a lake is supposed to look like.

They have never seen one in any other condition.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

What has happened on Fulda Lake has been done in many other places and the results are the same. No carp, clean water and healthy lakes. It was just plain exciting to be able to see down six feet and watch that northern pike swim up to my decoy.

It is obvious that since the restoration of Fulda Lake there is a lot more recreation fishing taking place there.  We saw many places where spear house and angling houses had been placed.  

This lake is now considered one of the best bluegill and pike lakes in the area. Vegetation in a lake provides places for young fish to hide and survive.  These plants also hold the bottom sediments intact so that first big wind does not stir the entire lake up like a big blender.

Many folks don't know that underwater plants are nature’s oil filters.  Just like an oil filter in a car removes impurities from the engine’s oil, lake plants filter pollution and contaminants from the water.

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Restorations like the one at Fulda Lake don't last forever. Sooner or later, carp will find their opportunity to expand in this lake.  Hopes are that it will take many years for this to happen.  When they get a foothold again, the amount of lake vegetation will decline and at some point the draw-down will need to be done again.  If everything works the way it is supposed to this could be at least 10-15 years from now.

Not everyone is in love with the new Fulda Lake.  New restorations can have lots of lake vegetation and this can in late summer reduce the amount of area available for boating or jet skiing.

A dirty water lake with poor water clarity and no vegetation or healthy fish populations can be boated on all summer long if you can stand the smell. A friend of mine put his boat in a different area late last summer and it took him three hours to scrub off all the green algae that had attached itself to the boat’s hull.  

He could boat with no vegetation issues, but the other drawbacks were pretty bad. In addition to his boat turning into a stink bomb, the algae clogged the fishing lures and the kind of fishing we were trying to do was impossible on over 75 percent of the lake’s surface.

Healthy lakes have vegetation which can create some difficulties for certain recreational opportunities during a limited time frame, but degraded and severely impaired lakes have other much more problematic issues.

All of the lakes in southwest Minnesota are listed as impaired or seriously impaired. In fact, the EPA said recently that there were no swimable or fishable lakes or stream in our part of the state.  They even recommend not eating the fish from these waters.

So when it comes to a quality of life and a human safety perspective, a restored healthy lake with lake vegetation is much better than the alternative, even if you cannot run a boat anywhere you want all summer long.

I drove up to Fulda Lake late last summer just to check it out and see what everyone was talking about. As I stood in the dock I thought I was at a pristine clear water lake in northern Minnesota.

I am so impressed with the work done on this lake.  With the right education, communication, expectations and funding there is hope some of the other lakes in our region can be more than just dirty water, algae-choked and carp-infested mud puddles. No carp, or are at least in very limited numbers, is the key component to these potential successes.


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Submitted photo This photo shows the fisherman's spearing decoy at the bottom of Fulda Lake. The water depth in the location this photo was snapped was six feet.

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