Little McDonald isn’t so small – nor are its walleyes
By Glen Schmitt
Little McDonald Lake has a lengthy history as a fishery known to produce big walleyes. And it’s definitely not a numbers game for this Otter Tail County lake – at least compared with many other lakes in this walleye-rich region. But Little Mac does give up its share of bigger fish.
There’s also a panfish population worth noting – crappies more than bluegills – and there are enough good-sized northern pike for anglers to give them a fair shake as well.
Little McDonald seems created to grow bigger game fish. It’s a deep lake, with a maximum depth of more than 100 feet and incredibly clear water. Toss in an abundant tullibee forage base, along with limited fishing pressure, and you have all the ingredients needed to consistently grow big walleyes and pike.
“Historically, it’s a real good walleye lake, especially for big fish,” said Jim Wolters, DNR fisheries supervisor in Fergus Falls. “If people ask me where they can go to catch a bigger walleye, Little Mac is on the radar.”
While some limited natural reproduction occurs, the lake’s walleye population is maintained primarily through every-other-year stocking efforts. There’s also a permanent regulation in place aimed at protecting Little McDonald’s larger walleyes, which began in the late 1990s.
An experimental regulation was implemented in 1998 and was in effect through 2010. That regulation protected walleyes from 18 to 26 inches long. In 2011, this regulation was amended and continues today with a protected slot of 17 to 26 inches.
“That slot in ‘98 was put in place because we saw a lot of harvest of large walleyes. Those bigger fish were getting hammered pretty good,” Wolters said. “The current slot was implemented to establish those bigger fish again. We know it has the ability to produce big walleyes.”
That doesn’t mean you can’t catch some keeping-size walleyes from Little McDonald. It’s just that the majority of the catch likely will be within the protected slot. Keepers can be challenging to catch.
According to Josh Nordick, associate at Gene’s Sport Shop in Perham, Little McDonald doesn’t garner much walleye-fishing attention. Winter pressure is almost nonexistent due to the lake’s deep water, which often leads to sketchy ice conditions.
The lake’s deep, clear water also means you must fish early and stay late during the open-water season. Midday walleyes are hard to produce.
“Little McDonald is more of an open-water fishery – mainly June through September,” Nordick said. “It also has short windows of (walleye) activity, typically early and late each day during the summer.”
A high-water scenario several years ago helped build a decent panfish population in the lake. Although water levels have receded, that high water did leave behind a bay and improved panfish habitat on the southwest corner of the lake. Bulrush, cattail, and flooded timber in this bay led to some decent crappie reproduction and good fishing opportunities. The lake also holds bluegills, but don’t expect many over 8 inches in length.
“People are catching crappies, and we see consistent recruitment,” Wolters said. “Most are 91⁄2- to 11-inch fish with a few bigger crappies mixed in.”
While Little McDonald is not recognized as a great largemouth bass fishery, Wolters says their numbers are starting to increase. He also said it’s a lake that anglers should look at if they want to catch larger northern pike.
Recent DNR survey results have indicated that pike numbers are on the rise, and there are some good-sized fish, too.
“Little McDonald is not a hammerhandle (pike) lake,” Wolters said. “There’s a good opportunity to catch nice pike here.”
Little McDonald Lake
Surface area……………1,316 acres
Maximum depth…………109 feet
Shore length……………..8.5 miles
Water clarity………………….23 feet
AIS present……….Zebra mussel
Fish species present: walleye, black crappie, northern pike, bluegill, largemouth bass, pumpkinseed, yellow perch, hybrid sunfish, tullibee (cisco), rock bass, bullhead, white sucker, shorthead redhorse.
For information: DNR area fisheries office (218) 739-7576, the DNR website http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind or Gene’s Sport Shop (218) 346-3355.