Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Winterkill lurks, as lake ‘liberalization’ wraps up

Hutchinson, Minn. – Most of the 30 lakes in Minnesota opened to
“liberalized” fishing regulations this winter have now closed, but
that doesn’t mean a few more won’t join the list late this winter,
according to Gene Jeseritz, DNR assistant area fisheries supervisor
in Hutchinson.

Lakes are opened to liberalized fishing when oxygen levels are
depleted to a point that winterkill of fish begins. Anglers may
take fish by a number of means typically not available (spear or
gill net), and there are no bag limits. A fishing license is still
required.

All of the original 16 lakes in the Hutchinson area opened to
liberalized fishing, closed Feb. 24. However, a 17th lake, Clear
Lake in Sibley and Nicollet counties, opened Feb. 22 and is slated
to close March 15, Jeseritz said. After a month or more of
liberalized fishing, most lakes are void of fish, fishing interest
has waned, or, most likely, both things have occurred.

Two other lakes opened to liberalized fishing – Foster and South
Twin, both in Wright County – were scheduled to close Feb. 29;
First and Second Fulda lakes in Murray County won’t close until
October.

Jeseritz said thick ice and heavy snow this year helped deplete
oxygen in area lakes, leading to winterkill of fish. And those
lakes weren’t limited to those where liberalized fishing
occurred.

“There are some lakes with low oxygen that we don’t bother
testing, such as waterfowl lakes,” he said. Other lakes don’t have
enough fish to create sufficient interest in liberalized fishing.
Still others are DNR fish-rearing ponds located on private property
where the department doesn’t want to create trespass issues.

There is some good that can come from winterkill, Jeseritz said,
especially in waterfowl lakes and rearing ponds. On waterfowl
lakes, winterkill often rids the lake of species that uproot
important vegetation. And by eliminating fish from walleye-rearing
ponds, there occurs less predation on fry that are stocked there in
the spring.

Weather conditions will determine if more lakes in the
Hutchinson area – and other areas of southern Minnesota; northern
lakes because of poor ice conditions have retained better oxygen
levels – are opened to liberalized fishing yet this winter.

“A lot of lakes are getting low, but they’re slowly dropping,
which is a good thing,” Jeseritz said. “When it drops slowly, it
allows fish to acclimate (to lower oxygen levels). But it all
depends on day to day weather from here on out.”

Clouds and snow would make further winterkill a greater
likelihood; sunny and mild conditions would decrease the
possibility of further fish kills, he said.

Jeseritz said the department is cautious about shutting down
liberalized fishing, if lakes are opened late in the winter.

“We don’t want to get in a situation where we’re spearing brood
stock,” he said.

Jeseritz said noticeable winterkill hadn’t occurred in the area
for six or seven years, before this winter.

“People were not as familiar with unlimited fishing as they had
been; we had to do some education,” he said.

Come spring, fisheries biologists will examine the extent of
fish kill in lakes and rearing ponds.

“There’s truly no such thing as complete winterkill,” Jeseritz
said. “More accurately, there are periodic partial kills.”

A high rate of kill in rearing ponds means walleye fry may be
stocked and expected to have a good chance to reach fingerling size
by fall, when they’ll be stocked in state lakes. Stocking of
depleted species could occur in other lakes, though Jeseritz said
it takes very little brood stock to re-establish a population of
fish.

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