Wakanda's stuck in the middle of it

WILLMAR -- Mention Wakanda Lake to any local angler and this phrase will eventually come out: "It's a great place to fish early in the ice fishing season."...

WILLMAR -- Mention Wakanda Lake to any local angler and this phrase will eventually come out: "It's a great place to fish early in the ice fishing season."

That's it. No more, no less.

Ask a landowner on the lake and there will be a drastically different reaction.

"It is part of a chain of shallow lakes that have great potential to exhibit the beauty and value of shallow lake ecology," according to Nick Ronning, a member of the Lake Wakanda Association. "These lakes have watershed level issues with municipal and agricultural runoff and there are also issues within the lakes -- turbid water, lack of vegetation, and destructive fish such as carp."

At this point, Ronning is in agreement with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' fisheries division.


"There are high levels of nutrients that are flowing into the lake from the city of Willmar. There are inadequate water control structures," said Spicer fisheries manager Bruce Gilbertson. "The changes in the water levels are larger than we would like, which affects the growth of vegetation. There is turbidity in the lake that stimulates algae growth."

How to go about solving the problem, however, is a topic for great debate.

One of Ronning's big complaints with the management of Wakanda is the aeration system. It was installed to prevent a complete winterkill of the lake and keep fish populations alive.

"What the DNR is doing at Wakanda is completely artificial -- using an aerator to promote winter survival of all fish (including carp and walleyes) in an ecosystem that relies on winterkill to maintain a natural balance so that DNR can provide a fishing opportunity for a species (walleye) that isn't native to that habitat," Ronning wrote in an email.

Gilbertson contends that for the problems at Wakanda, waiting for winterkill isn't the all-encompassing solution.

"Some of the problems are that the frequency of winterkill on our shallow lakes is decreasing. It is something that we will be looking at, but it is entirely possible that without the aerator, the oxygen levels get low enough to kill the game fish but that the carp survive," he said. "That happened this year. Oxygen levels got to very low levels that I estimated that the majority of our walleyes were dead. After consulting with (Kandiyohi) county, the aerator was turned off.

"We still had carp up the ditch between Kandiyohi and Willmar. When we did our netting, there were a lot of young carp that were still present in the lake."

Another question in the management of the lake is the need to stock the lake with walleyes. According to Ronning, walleyes don't reproduce in the lake and continual stocking is a waste of taxpayer money.


But providing a better fishing experience for anglers isn't the main reason for stocking the lake. While carp are a major problem, bullheads also have been a concern.

"Looking at the role that bullheads and carp play in vegetation, the idea of maintaining these predators is to control them to a certain degree," Gilbertson said. "I do believe that walleyes have been able to control the bullheads.

"We've been utilizing these game fish to control those rough fish. The reasons were to try to control the rough fish, to provide some fishing."

What can be done about the carp? It's not that simple. If it was, carp would have been eradicated some time ago.

"The University of Minnesota has been trying to develop ways to control carp," Gilbertson said. "It's not going to be any single thing that is going to work to be a control for that species."

There are two other factors that exacerbate the troubles of Wakanda. The first is that the lake doesn't stand on its own. As mentioned before, the watershed gets fed by runoff from agricultural lands and ditches from Willmar. Plus it is one of about seven in a chain of small prairie lakes close together. Unwanted fish end up moving to more friendly waters until conditions improve.

"We don't have significant drops in levels between basins," Gilbertson said. "Fish have fairly easy access. Any fish small enough to swim through the barriers can re-establish themselves."

The DNR isn't the only entity managing the lake, and that is the other factor to consider. The land is in Kandiyohi County, there are landowners to consider and there are other agencies in state government who all have a say in what will happen.


"A lot of things are out of my level of control," Gilbertson said. "We have some general agreement on things between general divisions. There are some things that we need to look at. If the Grass Lake restoration takes place, that would help tremendously with nutrient reductions and water quality on the lake. That one in my mind is a very important piece.

"We're going to examine some things where there may be some adjustments in the elevations of the outlet structures. Some of that we have to be sure any changes will be done within the appropriate system. Kandiyohi County is the owner of those structures and they would need to get the approval of owners on the lake."

Whatever happens, it seems like it will take some time and a lot of cooperation.

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