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Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Lake Carlos, Douglas County

Lake Carlos’ claim to chain fame: smallies and largemouth bass

By Glen Schmitt
Staff Writer

Eleven lakes make up the highly popular Alexandria Chain of Lakes in west-central Minnesota. At 2,605-acres and with a maximum depth of 163 feet, Lake Carlos is the largest, deepest, and lowermost basin in the system.

Like all lakes in the chain, Carlos has a well-deserved reputation as an excellent bass fishery. It features both largemouth and smallmouth bass that can be good-sized, which also makes the chain, including Carlos, a destination for numerous bass tournaments each year.

But Carlos is a challenging lake to fish. Its average water depth is 50 feet and since zebra mussels were discovered in 2009, the lake has become even more clear, with midsummer water clarity measurements now consistently over 20 feet.

“From a (bass) fishing standpoint, it’s a little different than the other lakes in the chain. But if you figure it out, you’ll catch some really nice bass,” said Dana Freese, of Christopherson’s Bait and Tackle in Alexandria. “The bass tend to run better size in Carlos, and the smallmouth population has really come along. It’s not world-class smallie fishing, but we’ve seen more of them in (tournament) bags over the last five to eight years.”

The DNR conducted a standard survey of Carlos in 2020, which typically involves electrofishing work – the most accurate way to gauge bass numbers. But with safety measures in place due to COVID-19, gill nets were the only component used.

Even so, a fair number of bass were represented – an indication that the current bass population remains strong. Largemouths up to 16 inches showed up, and smallmouths over 19 inches were sampled.

“Bass numbers are phenomenal; they always have been throughout the entire chain,” said Bill McKibbon, DNR assistant fisheries supervisor in Glenwood. “Carlos is right up there for both size and numbers of its bass.”

Black crappie catch rates were low in last summer’s survey, but the population is much better than those results showed. While only 15 fish were sampled, it’s worth pointing out that crappies just over 12 inches were sampled.

Bluegills and pumpkinseeds are abundant in Carlos, but they don’t provide much for size. Fish over 8 inches are rare, although you can sort through those small fish and probably put together enough of them to dirty a frying pan.

“I never hear much about the bluegills, but they do catch nice crappies out there – 10- to 12-inchers,” Freese said. “You’ll catch better numbers in the spring when they’re in the bulrushes, and then they get tough to find.”

Walleye fingerlings are stocked annually by the DNR, and there is some supplemental stocking that takes place by the lake association. There’s also some natural reproduction, but it is limited.

As a walleye fishery, Carlos is more known for its big fish rather than numbers. Historical DNR data show that the lake has always been dominated by bigger walleyes.

Because the lake is so deep, the walleye bite typically doesn’t fire up on Carlos until late June or early July – right about now. Its extremely clear water also means most of your walleyes will be deep and often caught during low-light periods.

“It’s one of the lakes in this area to look at if you want to catch a big walleye,” Freese said. “I wouldn’t expect a limit, but if you want to pop a couple mid-20-inch fish, you can do that.”

Northern pike numbers are high and plagued by an abundance of hammerhandle-sized fish. But the lake has a healthy tullibee population and plenty of cool, deep water that likely holds bigger pike that don’t show up in surveys, according to McKibbon.

“Carlos is definitely a big-fish lake,” he said. “You find that thermocline and you’ll catch big walleyes and pike.”

Lake Carlos

Nearest town………..Alexandria

Surface area…………..2,605 acres 

Maximum depth…………163 feet

Shore length……………….13 miles

Water clarity………………….25 feet

Fish species present:

Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, black crappie, bluegill, walleye, northern pike, pumpkinseed, yellow perch, burbot (eelpout), hybrid sunfish, rock bass, bullhead, white sucker, greater redhorse, shorthead redhorse, bowfin (dogfish). 

For information:

DNR area fisheries office (320) 634-7324, the DNR website or Christopherson’s Bait & Tackle (320) 763-3255.

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