Mini-Leech? Steamboat has all the fish an angler desires
By Glen Schmitt
Steamboat Lake runs along the Hubbard/Cass county line just north of Walker. It’s a 1,755-acre fishery that’s also connected to Leech Lake via the Steamboat River.
That connection allows fish to move between the lakes, so what’s in Leech, you can expect to find in Steamboat as well. Leech Lake’s little brother to the north, as it were.
While not as well known as famous Leech Lake, Steamboat is a pretty fine fishery in its own right. It holds big walleyes, good-sized panfish, northern pike, largemouth bass, muskies, eelpout, tullibees, and whitefish. See the similarities?
Steamboat’s walleye numbers are built through annual fry stocking and natural reproduction. That combination, along with fish sliding in from Leech, maintains a decent population.
Although walleye abundance was down a bit from management goals of four per net during a 2018 DNR survey, Steamboat’s walleye population is in fine shape.
Most impressive from that survey was the overall size structure of the walleyes sampled. They averaged 171⁄2 inches in length and 40% of those fish were over 20 inches long, which has been the norm for Steamboat.
“Numbers have been down a bit in recent years, but the quality continues,” said Jody Derks, DNR assistant fisheries manager in Walker. “Steamboat has always been known for big walleyes. If you’re looking for a big fish, it’s a safe bet. But if you’re looking for a limit, probably not.”
The size structure of the lake’s bluegills, black crappies, and perch is also impressive. Like its walleyes, don’t expect huge numbers of fish, but what you do catch is often worthy of a photo.
Generally, bluegills are much more numerous than crappies and perch, and you will have to sort through some small ‘gills at times. But the right pod of panfish will provide plenty of quality as well.
“Those big bluegills might be the No. 1 attraction out there. It’s a low-density population, but you’ll see some exceeding 9 inches,” Derks said. “Crappies don’t sample well, but the fish we see are nice – up to 14 inches – and we’ve seen perch up to 13 inches in surveys.”
Based on recent survey results, including 2018, the number of northern pike in Steamboat seems to be going up. DNR test nets averaged almost eight pike per lift four years ago, which is higher than Derks would like to see.
The pike sampled in 2018 ranged from 15 to 31 inches in length and averaged 21 inches or a bit more than 2 pounds. Their overall size was down a bit as well.
“We noticed northern pike numbers going up and the size structure going down in 2018,” Derks said. “On the high end, you can expect some pike in the mid- to upper 30-inch range.”
It’s worth noting that Steamboat is a deep lake with much of its acreage over 30 feet and a maximum depth of 93 feet. There also are tullibees and whitefish in the system for pike to feed on. So it’s not out of the question that bigger pike swim here, given the deep, cool-water refuge and fatty forage base.
There’s a largemouth bass population in Steamboat, although numbers were limited in surveys conducted in 2014 and 2018. In addition, there wasn’t a bass sampled that exceeded 15 inches in length in either survey.
Muskies are present, although their abundance is low as well. A targeted muskie survey in 2014 yielded no fish, nor did the standard survey in 2018. But it’s likely some muskies inhabit the lake.
“There’s definitely an opportunity for muskies to travel into Steamboat from Leech,” Derks said. “But I wouldn’t expect (high) numbers.”
Surface area……………1,755 acres
Maximum depth…………..93 feet
Shore length…………………8 miles
Water clarity……………………8 feet
Fish species present:
Walleye, bluegill, black crappie, northern pike, yellow perch, largemouth bass, muskie, pumpkinseed, burbot (eelpout), hybrid sunfish, whitefish, tullibee (cisco), bullhead, rock bass, white sucker, bowfin (dogfish).
DNR area fisheries office (218) 547-1683, the DNR website http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind.