A bass, bluegill comeback: It’s no Big Grand illusion
By Glen Schmitt
Located northwest of Duluth, Big Grand Lake is an average-size fishery with an abundance of relatively shallow water. While there are stretches of depth in the 20-foot range, much of its water is less than 10 feet deep.
This makes Big Grand susceptible to winterkill events, which have occurred as recently as 2018 and on a much greater scale, during the winter of 2013-14.
These winterkills have a major effect on fishing opportunities in the years that follow. While it takes some time for fish to rebound, it currently looks like Big Grand is on an upward track.
“We didn’t see a complete kill in 2013, but it was a substantial event. Most species took a hit,” said Dan Wilfond, DNR Fisheries specialist in Duluth. “It’s happened in the past, but Big Grand has the capability to rebound quickly.”
The lake is regarded primarily as a largemouth bass and bluegill fishery, and numbers of those fish declined dramatically after the winter of 2013-14. Both species were in fine shape – numbers- and size-wise – prior to the winterkill.
Based on results of a DNR survey last summer, it appears as though the return of bass and panfish has begun in earnest. While their numbers still aren’t where they were prior to that major kill, they’re certainly moving in a positive direction.
“People were most bummed about the loss of largemouths and bluegills because they were doing so well,” Wilfond said. “They’re also the slowest to rebound, but we saw good numbers last summer. They’re out there, but it’s going to be a couple of years before the lake resembles what it was prior to 2013.”
Largemouth bass were sampled during a 2019 spring electrofishing survey at a rate of 24.8 fish per hour, and they averaged nearly 14 inches in length.
Bluegill abundance was satisfactory at eight fish per trap net, and they averaged 51⁄2 inches in length, while sampled black crappie numbers were considered average, with fish over 12 inches in the mix.
“Given the lake’s history of rebounding, we see pretty good potential moving forward with its bass and panfish,” Wilfond added.
Big Grand’s walleye population is sustained through fry stocking, which is accelerated after significant winterkill events. For example, the lake was stocked for three consecutive years after the die-off of 2013-14 and again in the spring of 2019 after a partial winterkill in 2018.
While stocking is intended to provide a short-term walleye fishery, survival rates of post-winterkill fry is usually exceptional due to an abundance of forage and a lack of predation by other fish species.
Gill nets yielded five walleyes per lift in 2019, they averaged 17.6 inches in length, and some fish exceeded 20 inches. Every walleye sampled was from the 2014 or 2016 stocked years, although no fish were from the 2015 year-class.
“If significant winterkill occurs, we’ll hit it three consecutive years with fry stocking,” Wilfond said. “Anglers should expect good walleye fishing for the next couple of years.”
Northern pike abundance was down significantly (six per gill net) in 2019 from the last survey (30.8 per net). Most of the fish sampled were less than 19 inches long.
Although numbers are currently down, perch between 10 and 12 inches were sampled in 2015, so the potential for bigger fish is there.
One smallmouth bass also was sampled in 2019 – likely a rogue fish that moved in from Little Grand Lake, which is connected and has smallmouth bass in it.
“Reports from anglers indicate the best fishing they’ve had in years,” Wilfond said. “Big Grand is coming back.”
Big Grand Lake
Surface area……………1,665 acres
Maximum depth………….24 feet
Shore length…………………8 miles
Water clarity………………….10 feet
Fish species present:
Largemouth bass, bluegill, black crappie, walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, pumpkinseed, smallmouth bass, rock bass, black bullhead, hybrid sunfish, white sucker.
DNR area fisheries office (218) 302-3264, the DNR website http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind or Chalstrom’s Bait (218) 726-0094.