Outdoors Journal: Fish under the ice

  • Article by: JIM GILBERT
  • Updated: January 6, 2011 - 8:46 PM

Ice covers all Minnesota lakes except Lake Superior at this time. On most lakes, the ice is more than a foot thick, but some have less and in addition a layer of slush; this is due to substantial snowfalls soon after freeze-up.

Under the concealment of ice, fish and other animals are sealed off from their replenishing supply of oxygen. Without the mixing of air and water by waves, and with photosynthesis at low ebb, very little oxygen is introduced into the water.

To survive, fish moderate their eating, growth, movement, and reproductive patterns. As winter progresses, oxygen first disappears from the bottom of lakes, because bacteria is using it to decompose organic matter. Consequently, sunfishes, northern pike and other species move up the water column. Lakes that are very shallow, quite small or that have high decomposition rates eventually run out of oxygen, resulting in "winterkill," which might kill all the fish in a lake.

JIM GILBERT

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