Prairie Gold: Southern Minnesota waters hold very good populations of walleye – West Central Tribune

WILLMAR – For many walleye anglers, the compass always points north to destinations from Mille Lacs to Lake of the Woods.

Staying close to home in the Spicer and Willmar area, or venturing south to counties not on the walleye maps for most people – like Murray or even Lincoln – can be rewarded with great walleye fishing too.

“There’s gold on the prairie, walleye that is,” said Jack Lauer, regional fisheries supervisor in New Ulm with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

There are many bodies of water in southern Minnesota that hold very good populations of walleye, and the probability for success on them is good, he said.

There’s no better time than now to pursue walleye in southern Minnesota. These lakes have already warmed up and the spawn is done, explained Lauer. “The walleyes are on the prowl, they’re moving (and) they’re hungry,” he said.

Jack Lauer_MNDNR (1) .jpg

Jack Lauer

The area served by the Spicer fisheries crew led by Dave Coahran and Brad Carlson is home to some of the best walleye fishing opportunities in the southern portion of the state. Green, Diamond and Koronis lakes are among some of the best known. Big Kandiyohi Lake made the list of the DNR’s top picks for success this year.

That list includes a number of surprises. Lauer suggests that those willing to explore southern destinations not on the usual walleye maps try Dead Coon Lake in Lincoln County and Currant Lake in Murray County. Both are loaded with prairie gold.

A look at the list of top picks for this year in the southern region, and the rest of the state, can be found on the DNR’s Regional Fishing Outlooks web page at dnr.state.mn.us/fishing/outlooks.html.

Good walleye fishing in southern Minnesota is the real thing. Southern Minnesota waters are home to native walleye populations that have thrived in these waters for centuries.

Yet for over a century, we have oftentimes been relying on “outsourcing” to stock walleye in the lakes. In many cases, the walleye being stocked into southern waters to augment walleye populations were taken from northern waters.

Work by fish geneticist Dr. Loren Miller with the University of Minnesota and DNR is helping fisheries managers do better by keeping it local. He identified eight distinct genetic strains of walleye in Minnesota, each associated with different watersheds.

DSC_0076.JPG

Many walleye anglers overlook opportunities found close to home by heading to Canada shield lakes of northern Minnesota. The prairie lakes of southern Minnesota hold lots of walleyes and there’s no time better than now to pursue them. A party heads out on Foot Lake in this West Central Tribune file photo.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune file photo

Lauer said that research by Miller helped “fingerprint” the different strains of walleye and showed that the walleye from northern Minnesota were not persisting and adapting well in many of the southern Minnesota lakes.

The ability to identify the walleye genetics showed that the native southern strains of walleye usually outperformed their northern cousins ​​in southern lakes.

Two walleye strains are important in southern Minnesota, according to Lauer. One is known as the “Spicer” or North Fork of the Crow River strain. The other is the Lower Mississippi River strain.

The Spicer fisheries crew is responsible for collecting eggs and milt from the “Spicer” strain. This year they took eggs from five lakes: Diamond, Elizabeth, Rice, Koronis and Green. A windy and cold spring made this as difficult a year as ever for the egg collection, which ran from April 20 to May 4.

The crew attempts to collect a quota of 250 to 275 quarts of eggs each season, with each quart holding in the neighborhood of 115,000 eggs, according to Coahran.

The fertilized eggs are raised in the New London hatchery. Instead of fishing this weekend, Coahran expects the crew will begin the process of stocking the newly raised fry in lakes. A portion will also be stocked into rearing ponds to grow into larger fingerlings for stocking in the fall.

Likewise, DNR fisheries workers in the Windom area have also collected eggs in waters that are home to walleyes from the Lower Mississippi River strain. One of those water bodies is Lake Sarah in Murray County, which has a naturally reproducing population of walleye.

Lauer said the DNR used to stock walleye from other strains in Lake Sarah. The ability to identify the different walleye strains showed that the native Lower Mississippi River strain outperformed their imported, northern cousins, and the practice of stocking northern walleye strains in the lake was ended. The DNR now makes it a point to take eggs from Lake Sarah for stocking other southern Minnesota lakes where the Lower Mississippi River strain performs best.

Lauer said researchers do not fully know what attributes of the Spicer and Lower Mississippi River strains help them perform best in southern waters. It may be that they are more tolerant of the warmer temperatures in the shallow southern Minnesota lakes. Or, perhaps they are better adapted to the darker and more turbid waters in these lakes.

Prairie Gold 061516.n.wct.GreenLakeFishing.JPG

The fishing season and warm days of summer are in front of us now. Walleye anglers can find plenty of action on waters close to home in southern Minnesota. This couple is enjoying a summer day on Green Lake in this West Central Tribune file photo.

Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune file photo

Walleye stocking can improve fishing in some lakes, but Lauer also cautions: “Stocking, stocking, stocking is not the answer,” he said. “Stocking works, but stocking does not always work.”

Lakes with natural reproduction provide the best fishing overall, he pointed out. Lakes that rely on stocking are subject to boom and bust cycles, depending on winter kill and other factors. This is a “boom” year in that cycle on a number of southern Minnesota lakes, and Lauer encourages anglers to get out and enjoy the bite.

Surprisingly, the waters may not be crowded. As of earlier this week, sales of fishing licenses statewide were 25 percent down from the previous year.

051222.N.WCT.SpicerArea.jpg

There are plenty of shore fishing opportunities available in the Willmar Lakes Area.

Contributed