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“We know there’s a pretty good kill going on,’’ said Roger Hugill, DNR area fisheries manager in Hinckley. “But it doesn’t mean there won’t be enough fish to re-establish the population.’’
Officials and locals were stunned.
“I’ve never seen it winterkill,’’ said Frankie Dusenka of Frankies Live Bait and Marine in Chisago City. “There’s still 36-plus inches of ice around here; it’s amazing.’’
DNR officials drilled holes around the lake and found very low oxygen levels — 1 part per million or less. Normally, the level would be 8 to 12 parts per million.
Concerned, DNR biologists then checked neighboring waters, including South Center, Chisago, Green and South Lindstrom, and found the oxygen levels were fine.
A fishing hot spot wiped out
At Pelican Lake near Albertville in Wright County — a fishing hot spot in recent years — officials in late February detected oxygen levels of less than 1 part per-million. So the DNR opened the shallow lake for 10 days to liberalized fishing with no limits. Joe Stewig, DNR area fisheries manager, said anglers took lots of fish for a few days, but then it appeared many of the fish remaining in the lake died.
“We had 33 to 35 inches of ice — I can’t remember the last time we had that much ice here,’’ Stewig said. “I think we’ll have a fair number of lakes with partial or full kills.’’
Pelican’s fish were destined to die, because the DNR plans to lower water levels to restore waterfowl habitat there. But for other lakes, including North Center, the fish loss can be significant. North Center won’t be opened to liberalized fishing. “It’s too late,’’ said Hugill. But repopulation might occur there because the lake is connected to South Center Lake.
The DNR assesses lakes with winterkill and determines whether to restock them or let natural reproduction occur. Sometimes the fish kills can help a lake by removing rough fish or reducing the number of small game fish, allowing survivors to grow larger.
Meanwhile, officials are hoping spring arrives soon, bringing oxygenated snowmelt into lakes.
“What we need is a full week of warm weather,’’ Hugill said.
When ice does leave, the DNR is expecting phone calls. Though many dead fish sink and decompose on lake bottoms, others wash ashore.
“People call when the ice goes out because you can’t miss the stench of dead, rotting fish,’’ McCormick said. “We’re figuring it’s going to be a busy spring for us.
Doug Smith • 612-673-7667
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