Sarah smiles upon southern Minnesota walleye anglers
By Glen Schmitt
Lake Sarah in Murray County is a lot like many fisheries in this part of southwestern Minnesota. Its physical features are pretty simplistic – very little structure and shallow – but it’s one heck of a walleye lake.
Sarah’s most unusual characteristic is probably that its walleye population is one of the only ones in the Windom area completely sustained through natural reproduction.
Even more interesting, they’re a genetic strain of walleyes, unique to the Cannon River, that has persisted in Sarah and a few other southern lakes for decades. Referred to as the “Lower Mississippi strain,” they’ve done well on their own.
“Sarah is like most of our prairie pothole lakes – it’s just not blessed with a lot of structure,” said Ryan Doorenbos, DNR Fisheries supervisor in Windom. “But from a fishing standpoint, the entire lake is productive.”
The Cannon River in south-central Minnesota was used as an egg source many years ago, which yielded an abundance of young walleyes to be stocked throughout this region.
Genetic studies have proved that Sarah’s walleye population has been maintained on its own, reproducing naturally as a result of those stocking efforts decades ago.
The proof: Lake Sarah has not been stocked with walleyes in 29 years but continues to boast an insanely robust walleye population.
So, why does Sarah keep producing successful year-classes of Lower Mississippi-strain walleyes?
“That’s a good question we don’t have a definite answer for, but this lake consistently keeps pumping out walleyes,” Doorenbos said. “We quit stocking that Cannon (River) strain in 1991 and they kept reproducing. The genetics have persisted for 30 years.”
Based on the most recent DNR survey, conducted in 2018, “persisted” might be an understatement. The sheer number of walleyes and their size distribution – big fish and young walleyes coming up – point to some excellent fishing opportunities now and in years ahead.
Gill nets averaged 21 walleyes per lift in 2018, they averaged 14 inches in length, and fish from 9 to 28 inches were sampled. The 2016 year-class was especially noteworthy, comprising 70% of the walleyes caught.
Walleyes also grow fast in Lake Sarah, with its abundant perch population providing ample forage. At 2 years of age, a Lake Sarah walleye will already be about 13 inches long and by age 4, it will be around 18 inches in length.
DNR electrofishing work conducted last fall also shines light on the lake’s positive future. Young-of-the-year walleyes were sampled at a rate of 163 per hour, up from 81 per hour in 2018.
The aforementioned perch also grow fast in this system, providing a fine secondary angling option. Gill nets averaged 49 perch per lift in 2018, which was the second-highest total ever recorded and well above the long-term average of 33 per net.
Perch averaged about 91⁄2 inches and topped out at just over 11 inches long in the survey. According to Doorenbos, anglers can expect good numbers of perch in the 10- to 11-inch range.
“Year after year we see strong year-classes of perch,” he said. “They’re pretty popular in the winter. Sarah has been a good (perch) lake for many years.”
Black crappies and bullheads round out the fishing options in Sarah. Bullheads are much more numerous, while crappies pull off a decent year-class every now and again.
“We consider Sarah the premier walleye lake in this area,” Doorenbos said. “I look at it as a real gem on the prairie.”
Surface area……………1,209 acres
Maximum depth…………..11 feet
Shore length…………………8 miles
Water clarity…………………2.5 feet
AIS present……….Zebra mussel
Fish species present:
Walleye, yellow perch, black crappie, black bullhead, yellow bullhead, bluegill, common carp, white sucker.
DNR area fisheries office (507) 832-6011, the DNR website http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind or Borch’s Sporting Goods (507) 532-4880.