Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Wisconsin Lake Profile – Middle Eau Claire Lake, Bayfield County

 

Fisheries team tracking Middle Eau Claire walleyes

 

DNR Report

 

Bayfield County’s Middle Eau Claire Lake was last surveyed in 2013 and showed an adult walleye (15 inches or longer or “sexable fish” if shorter) population estimate of 2.6 adults per acre. That’s not a terrible number, but it is a 49% decline from the average abundance of 5.1 adults per acre from 1991 to 2007. 

 

That 2.6 adults per acre is also a tad below the average of 3.0 adult walleyes per acre found on other lakes in Bayfield and Douglas counties that are sustained through natural recruitment.

 

The walleye size structure has changed significantly between survey periods and has increased as abundance has declined. 

 

Smallmouth and largemouth bass abundance have increased; however, largemouth bass have increased at a higher rate and now outnumber smallmouth bass. Muskellunge and northern pike were present in low abundance and were important to anglers as they relate to directed effort and harvest. 

 

Bluegill relative abundance in 2013 increased by 69% since 2004; however, average length and growth of bluegills has decreased – likely due to higher abundance of bluegills. 

 

Angling pressure during the 2013-14 fishing season was 16 hours per acre, which was the lowest for any survey on Middle Eau Claire Lake and below average for Bayfield and Douglas counties from past creel surveys. A portion of the angling pressure decline in 2013 may be attributable to the poor ice conditions during the ice fishing season.

 

Walleyes and muskies were the most sought after game fish species. Anglers harvested 347 walleyes and tribal spearers harvested 241 walleyes in 2013. Estimated exploitation (sport angling plus tribal spearing) of walleye 15 inches and longer, and “sexable” walleyes if shorter than 15 inches, was 15%. 

 

At that time, local DNR fish biologists considered a more conservative walleye regulation to keep more walleyes in Middle Eau Claire – and continuing their natural reproduction efforts – until the cause of the drop in walleye numbers would be pinpointed. Angler exploitation wasn’t necessarily the issue at that time. The local DNR crew also suggested more liberal largemouth bass regulations to encourage more harvest in that direction, with the thinking being that increased largemouth numbers could be cutting into the walleye population in some way.

 

Today, Middle Eau Claire has a walleye/sauger regulation that allows a daily bag of three fish, but fish from 14 to 18 inches may not be kept. Only one fish longer than 18 inches is allowed per day. 

 

Walleye stocking was not suggested at that time because Middle Eau Claire was still showing adequate natural reproduction. Stocking wouldn’t be considered unless fall electrofishing surveys showed fewer than 10 young-of-the-year walleyes per mile of shoreline for three consecutive years.

 

Middle Eau Claire Lake does have a reputation for producing good sized smallmouth bass, so the local fisheries team wanted to protect that fishery while encouraging harvest of largemouth bass.

 

The lake also has a reputation for producing quality muskies (38 to 44 inches), even if the population might have been considered a little below the northern Wisconsin average for density at the time of the survey. The largest muskellunge caught during the 2013 fyke netting survey was 42.8 inches.

 

When it comes to northern pike, Middle Eau Claire differs from a number of Wisconsin lakes that are overrun with small pike. In several survey years the fisheries team was not able to net enough pike to make a population estimate, other than to say that the pike population has appeared to be low during all survey years. Interestingly enough, though,  the largest northern pike caught during the 2013 fyke netting survey went 40 inches.

 

Bluegills were the most abundant panfish species during the panfish fyke netting survey of 2013, but showed a noticeable swing from 2004 to 2013 (35.8 to 27.9 to 25.7 to 117.0 fish per net lift in 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013). As might be expected, the number of bluegills 3.5 inches and shorter also increased as the numbers of bluegills increased.

 

Rock bass were the second most abundant panfish species, but their 2013 numbers decreased a bit from previous surveys. The mean length of rock bass was 7.4 inches in 2013. Warmouth and pumpkinseeds followed in abundance, then black crappies and yellow perch. Crappies averaged 10 inches; the perch averaged only 4.7 inches.

 

Middle Eau Claire Lake is part of the Eau Claire Lakes Chain in the southwestern section of Bayfield County.  The Eau Claire River runs through the chain from Upper to Middle to Lower Eau Claire lake. Bony Lake drains into Middle Eau Claire Lake. Public access is available via a boat landing on the southeast end of the lake.

Middle Eau Claire Lake

Nearest town: Barnes

Surface area: 902 acres

Max. depth: 66 feet

Water clarity: Very clear

 

Fish species present: black crappies, bluegills, pumpkin-seeds, rock bass, yellow perch, white suckers, bullheads, smallmouth  bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleyes and muskies.

 

For information: DNR regional fisheries office (715) 492-5276, the DNR web site http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/fhp/fish, or call Jim’s Bait, (715) 795-3150.

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