Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Minnesota Lake Profile – Big Carnelian Lake, Washington County


Big Carnelian fish managers work to put ‘big’ in fish size


By Glen Schmitt
Staff Writer


Sometimes, the name of a lake can be deceptive. Such is the case with Washington County’s Big Carnelian Lake. At just 450 acres, this fishery isn’t exactly big.


But with water clarity that’s typically over 20 feet, it’s one of the east Twin Cities metro area’s clearest bodies of water. That allows the lake to grow excellent shallow and deep vegetation, which provides ideal habitat for Big Carnelian’s panfish and largemouth bass.


“Ecologically, it’s a classic metro bass/panfish lake that we supplement with (stocked) walleyes,” said TJ DeBates, east metro DNR fisheries supervisor. “But it’s a cool, little lake, tucked away in northern Washington County that kind of has that up-north feel.”


Big Carnelian’s panfish population gets a good amount of local angling interest. There are plenty of bluegills and crappies in the lake, and the size structure of these fish seems to fall in line with many lakes in the area.


That means the majority of bluegills will run in the 6- to 7-inch range, while crappies, on the large end, typically fall between 9 and 10 inches long.


That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few bigger panfish to be had, at least based on DNR survey results from Big Carnelian in 2015 – the last time the lake was surveyed.


Bluegills up to 9 inches were sampled, and 48% of the catch was longer than 7 inches. Crappie numbers weren’t as strong, but they rarely are in summer-conducted surveys. Fish up to 101⁄2 inches were sampled, however, and 40% were 9 inches or longer.


“They’re average-size panfish, like most lakes in the metro,” DeBates said. “Big Carnelian is a solid crappie and bluegill fishery.”


It’s also a reliable bass lake, with excellent numbers of largemouths and some good-size fish to boot. 


Nighttime electrofishing work by the DNR in 2015 yielded almost 90 bass per hour, which is pretty strong and also consistent with past survey numbers, according to DeBates.


A quarter of those fish sampled were longer than 12 inches, 7% measured over 16 inches in length, and bass approaching 20 inches were in the mix.


While there’s a history of Big Carnelian producing quality northern pike, that hasn’t been the case in recent years. The average length of the pike sampled in 2015 was just 17 inches. 


The DNR implemented a 24- to 36-inch protected slot for Big Carnelian’s northern pike in 2003 with hopes of increasing their size structure. It did little to move the needle toward higher numbers of larger pike.


Big Carnelian is in the north-central pike zone, which protects fish from 22 to 26 inches. But anglers can keep 10 northern pike, although not more than two may be over 26 inches in length.


DeBates hopes the opportunity to keep an increased bag limit of small pike will garner interest among anglers. Ideally, removing more of those small fish should increase the size structure.


“There is a history on the lake of bigger northern pike, and that’s why the initial regulation was put on,” DeBates said. “It has good numbers of fish below 22 inches, so we’re hoping people harvest more of those small fish to see if it improves the size structure.”


Big Carnelian does not have a huge walleye population. Only two walleyes were sampled in 2015. It’s stocked annually with a limited number of walleyes that vary in size from yearlings to adults.


For the most part, if you catch a few here, they tend to be larger walleyes. Just don’t plan on finding many of them.


“We try to focus on stocking bigger walleyes just to create that opportunity for people to catch a few,” DeBates said. “Generally, they’re good-sized.” 

Big Carnelian Lake

Nearest town…………..Stillwater

Surface area………………457 acres 

Maximum depth………….66 feet

Shore length………………..5 miles

Water clarity…………………24 feet


Fish species present: bluegill, black crappie, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye, pumpkinseed, green sunfish, hybrid sunfish, yellow perch, yellow bullhead, black bullhead, white sucker, redhorse. 


For information: DNR area fisheries office (651) 259-5770, the DNR website or Blue Ribbon Bait and Tackle (651) 777-2421.

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