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Fishing opportunities abound in Pope County

GLENWOOD -- Where the lakes begin ...

Many counties in Minnesota can lay claim to this often-used slogan. It still rings true.

Pope County can boast the same. As the southern gateway to the Alexandria lakes area, the lakes around Glenwood, Starbuck, Villard and other towns provide a wealth of fishing opportunities. One just needs to make the journey north on Minnesota Highway 104.

The biggest -- and best known -- body of water is Lake Minnewaska. Located between Glenwood and Starbuck, Minnewaska is a 7,110-acre lake teeming with excitement for anglers with various pursuits.

Walleye is king here and in other lakes in the county. But Minnewaska won't disappoint if the state's favorite fish aren't biting. Bass and panfish have slowly asserted their populations in the lake over the last couple of decades.

But it wasn't always that way.

Lake Minnewaska used to be the dumping grounds for the City of Glenwood's wastewater. The nutrient-laced effluent jacked up phosphorus levels and resulted in severe algae blooms and reduced oxygen levels.

But with the redesign of the City's water treatment system, the waste is pumped over the hill in the city and out of the watershed to lake.

"(It resulted in) clearer water and with that comes more aquatic vegetation and with that comes bass and panfish fishery," said Dean Beck, manager of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Fisheries office in Glenwood. "Now you have a much more diverse fishery. We now support a lot more bluegill than we used to, which is very popular in the winter months."

Largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill and northern pike thrive with increased aquatic vegetation, which give the fish cover to spawn.

Like many lakes across the state, the DNR stocks Minnewaska with walleye to help supplement whatever natural reproduction the lake has.

"Minnewaska is where more of our investments go," Beck said of the overall stocking budget for the area. "It does have some natural reproduction, but not as much as we'd like to."

For a challenge, head north on Highway 29 to Reno Lake, almost directly between Glenwood and Alexandria.

There, anglers will find a bountiful walleye fishery, with a twist.

"It's a walleye factory there," Beck said. "Just tremendous natural reproduction. They've got so much food available to them that they're harder to catch."

Like Minnewaska, Reno suffered from water quality issues a couple of decades ago. But with decreasing run-off and lower water levels, aquatic vegetation reemerged and has made Reno a more diversified body, with perch, sunfish and northern pike gaining ground.

Walleye may be the state fish, but northern pike don't trail far behind in terms of fishing entertainment.

And Beck is fairly proud of the opportunities Pope County gives to pike enthusiasts.

As he went through a list of lakes in the county, many of them were followed by "... is a good northern pike lake."

Gilchrist, for example, which is west of Sedan, is a small lake -- only 336 acres -- but has above-average northerns.

"It has some of the best northern pike in terms of average size," Beck said.

The average size in a 2006 gill net survey was 2.3 pounds.

Linka, just north of Gilchrist, is an even smaller, but deeper body of water where northerns thrive. The same survey year showed an average of 3.7 pounds. Linka is also known for its largemouth bass and sunfish populations.

Scandinavian, south of Gilchrist, might be a little less of a pike factory, but they're still there for the catching. But you might have to fight off the largemouth bass and bluegill, which are said to be abundant in population.

If your fishing curiosity has piqued, just remember that wherever you go this season, not every lake may be ready for you.

"The trails and waterways staff have just started getting the boat ramps and docks in," Beck said. "There is some concern that we won't be able to get all of those in by the opener."

Also a couple of lakes in Pope County have become infected with invasive species like eurasian watermilfoil and curly-leaf pondweed. Signs are posted at public accesses of infected lakes and the procedures posted should be followed to stop their spread.

Finally, if the weather isn't as nice as we all would like it to be, Beck said don't stand rigid in your fishing stance.

"Given the uncertainties of the walleye spawn, be prepared to diversify," he said. "If you come in with walleye blinders on, you might be a little disappointed."

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