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Brutal winds and cold do no harm here

Winds tore apart the early ice sheet and brutal cold arrived later to chill even the most hearty, but none of it kept anglers away from Lac qui Parle Lake this winter. The lake retains its reputation as one of western Minnesota's most popular fishing destinations, but it's not without challenges.

This winter started with a wind storm that tore apart the early ice sheet on Lac qui Parle Lake, leaving it looking like a shattered window pane. It was followed by brutal, numbing cold in February.

None of it did anything to deter anglers or tarnish the reputation of Lac qui Parle Lake as one of the most popular fishing destinations in western Minnesota.

Ice anglers took full advantage of a good walleye bite on the lake lake this past winter, and more than a few also jumped on some decent crappie fishing as well.

We can expect good fishing ahead, but there remain familiar challenges. Chris Domeier, fisheries supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Ortonville, recently summarized fishery data from recent years, as well as information dating to the first fish survey of the lake in 1975.

His summary offers a look at the most popular game fish in the lake, and offers a snapshot of the current fishing prospects for others as well.

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Natural reproduction and fish stocking have helped maintain the lake’s walleye population. There were good numbers of walleye in the lake in 2020, said Domeier.

But work by the fisheries staff also found that walleyes from the 2018- and 2019-year classes were growing slowly. The 2018 year class walleye averaged around 13 inches in length, when they should be closer to 15 inches. The 2019 walleye averaged around 10 inches in length, when 11- to 12-inches would be expected.

The walleye are hungry, and that likely explains the good bite enjoyed by anglers this winter, according to Domeier. The walleye were probably struggling to find food, and not only because food was limited. Turbid water conditions during the summer of 2020 made it difficult for walleye to find their prey. More settled conditions in the winter allowed them to be more active and successful.

As an impoundment of the Minnesota River, Lac qui Parle Lake and its 5,740 acres of water are connected to the Pomme de Terre and Lac qui Parle Rivers. The lake with its 53 miles of shoreline and the tributaries offer lots of good spawning habitat, and natural reproduction consequently accounts for most of the lake’s walleye. The lake’s three strongest year classes are all products of natural reproduction during springs with favorable conditions for spawning.

Stocking plays an important role too. Most recently, the DNR added 1.5 million fry in 2019. It has stocked larger frylings, fingerlings, and yearlings by the thousands in previous years along with the fry. The stocked fish are marked by exposure to an antibiotic or by clipped fins. Nets set by the DNR staff and electrofishing have allowed them to document that many of the stocked fish are surviving to harvest size.

River connectivity helps too, according to Domeier. The walleye are migrating upstream and into the tributaries to take advantage of habitat.

The DNR was not able to stock fish last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the good numbers that were found in the lake indicate that anglers should not experience a major drop in the walleye catch.

The fisheries supervisor reported that young-of-year walleyes were moderately abundant in August of 2020. “They were from natural reproduction. They were in decent shape based on their average length,” he stated.

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The lake’s challenges are well known. The lake is used for flood control, and water levels fluctuate, sometimes by more than five feet.

Prairie winds stir sediments in the lake during the open water months, causing turbidity. Walleye usually take advantage of turbid conditions, but the levels experienced last year were probably too high for them, according to the fisheries supervisor.

Nutrient levels and warm temperatures that occur in the lake, which is no more than 15-feet deep, make it susceptible to blue-green algae blooms.

All of these factors adversely affect the food chain.

Domeier said the lake’s young walleye struggle to find enough food. Once they reach about 14-inches they are able to prey on the lake’s more abundant numbers of larger forage fish, and do well.

Crappies

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The lake’s crappie bite has been good, and consistently so since 2011. Domeier said he believes that favorable water levels during the crappie spawning period during the past years is likely the cause of the good numbers. The overall numbers remain good, but he offers a word of caution. The most recent two year classes were not there in good numbers.

Northern Pike

Grow fast, die young seems to the story for the toothy predator in Lac qui Parle Lake. Gill net numbers tend to average on the lower side, and few pike over five years old are caught. Warm water temperatures in the summer may be limiting them.

White Bass

A large die-off of white bass during the winter of 2010-11 knocked them down, and their numbers have remained low ever since. There were high numbers of young found last fall, hinting at the prospect for a rebound.

Channel catfish

This game fish is found in moderately high numbers, but few anglers target them. They remain underutilized.

Freshwater drum

They remain abundant in the lake. While most anglers continue to shun them, this native species is important to the lake’s fishery. Young sheepshead are one of the most common forage fish found in the stomachs of walleyes examined by DNR staff. Once they grow, they become a competitor on the food chain for more desirable game fish.

Yellow perch

Numbers have remained consistently low. They were better in the 1990’s, during the decade when walleye numbers were at their highest in Lac qui Parle and many other lakes throughout the state.

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