Is Round Lake state’s example of perfect fishing lake?
By Dean Bortz
If the DNR’s Max Wolter were to design the perfect fishing lake, it would very much look like Sawer County’s Round Lake. Heck, it might even look exactly like Round Lake.
Wolter, the DNR’s Sawyer County fish biologist, talks almost reverently about Round Lake’s combination of varying fish habitat, depth, oxygenation, clarity, weedy bays, hard-bottomed structure, and tight rocky contours.
“Round is an amazing lake. It does everything pretty well,” said Wolter. “Most lakes have a lot of something and not a lot of other stuff. This is an interesting lake to work on. The habitat is fantastic for just about everything. It’s deep and steep with a lot of rock reefs, but then it also has large, weedy bays. It has just a well balanced fishery.
“It has great off-shore structure, great water clarity, fish cribs, 20 to 30 feet of visibility … many days I just watch fish as much as I fish for them.”
Wolter said there are other area lakes similar to Round in acreage and water clarity, such as Grindstone and Lac Courte Oreilles, but he said Round has a little more in the way of weedy bays, a little bit of an extra dimension.
Round has been steadily sampled by Sawyer County’s DNR fisheries team over the years, most recently in 2019 with a comprehensive survey (no creel survey) and 2013. Wolter said Round’s overall fishery is generally improving for most species. Round is stocked by the DNR, but only for muskies and that happens every third year.
“For whatever reason we don’t see a lot of natural muskie reproduction, but it’s been that way a long time. It’s not a recent issue,” said Wolter.
The most recent adult walleye population estimate dates back to 2010 when the number came in at a very light .83 adults per acre.
“We don’t have a recent estimate, but I have to imagine it’s higher than that just based on what we’ve been seeing in the nets. We went from 1.7 ‘per net night’ in 2013 to 14 per net night in 2019, so things are looking a lot better.
“Also, in 2019, the walleye size was impressive. Round has a 15- to 20-inch harvest slot and 61% of the walleyes we netted were in the legal harvest slot,” said Wolter.
While Round is known as a good walleye lake, the lake’s smallmouth bass may well have the best reputation right now because those beasts are attracting the most interest.
“You have a real shot at a 20- to 21-incher every time you’re on the water. There are local rumors of smallmouths bigger than that, but 21 inches is about the top of what we see in the surveys.”
In the 2019 survey, 79% of smallies were longer than 14 inches and 34% longer than 17 inches. Wolter attributed today’s smallmouth fishery to catch-and-release efforts over the past 15 to 20 years.
Round also has the reputation of producing big muskies.
“Because of how clear that water is, you can always see the muskies. We probably see more muskies than we can get in the nets. We’re catching 50-inchers consistently now and the hatchery crew caught one that they estimated at 54 inches. It’s not a high density population, but does have super-fish potential.”
Muskies aren’t the only esox that grow big in Round. Wolter said Round has the potential to grow 40-inch pike in a low density fishery. Anglers won’t see a bunch of hammer-handles like might be seen in other lakes. In Round, 82% of the 2019 captured pike were longer than 21 inches and 25% were longer than 28 inches.
“I describe it as a well behaved pike population. We also get huge tiger muskies out there, and they occur naturally,” said Wolter.
Round even has what Wolter describes as a “nice” largemouth bass fishery, just have to look for them in the weedy bays. That’s where the fisheries team found 22% of their largemouth catch running longer than 15 inches. Some taped 20 inches. The two bass species are managed with separate regs. There is a five-fish bag limit and no size limit on largemouths; smallmouths have a one-fish, 18-inch limit.
When Wolter says Round’s crappies are the star of the panfish community, he’s not just a-kidding – 69% of netted crappies were longer than 10 inches in 2019, with the top end longer than 14 inches. He said game wardens have seen fishermen with crappies bigger than that 14 inches. Out there, 11-inchers are the norm, and there are plenty of 12- and 13-inchers, he said.
The bluegills aren’t fantastic, but Wolter as seen improvement from 2013 to 2019. That might be due to the 25-panfish daily limit, where anglers may keep no more than 10 of any species. In 2013, the team found that 26% of netted bluegills were longer than 6 inches; in the 2019 survey, 33% of bluegills were longer than 6 inches and some were even longer than 8 inches.
The lake has four landings.
Nearest town: Hayward
Surface area: 3,294 acres
Max. depth: 74 feet
Water clarity: 20-30 feet
Fish species present: black crappies, bluegills, pumpkin-seeds, rock bass, yellow perch, white suckers, ciscoes, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleyes, and muskies.
For information: DNR regional fisheries office (715) 635-2101, the DNR website http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/water/fhp/fish, or call Hayward Bait, (715) 634-2921.