Big variety and big fish? Drop a line in Todd’s Big Birch Lake
By Glen Schmitt
Anytime anglers use the words “consistent” and “diverse” to describe a fishery, your ears should immediately perk up. That usually means it’s a really good fishing lake, which is exactly the case with Todd County’s Big Birch Lake.
Big Birch is a 2,106-acre system in west-central Minnesota that’s loaded with a wide range of diverse structure that holds a variety of healthy fish populations. It’s also an excellent year-round fish producer, adding consistency to the equation.
“Big Birch is the No. 1 destination lake and premier fishing lake in this area,” said Rex Campbell, owner of Nancy’s Bait and Tackle in nearby Grey Eagle. “It’s also the biggest lake and the most consistent mixed-bag, year-round lake we have around here.”
The lake is managed primarily for walleyes and is stocked annually via a tag-team effort between the DNR and the local lake association. The combination has been successful in maintaining a healthy walleye population for more than 15 years – walleye numbers that currently are above management objectives.
According to Eric Altena, DNR Fisheries supervisor in Little Falls, the lake’s walleye size structure also has remained consistent. During a survey early last month, gill nets averaged more than five walleyes per lift. Most fish were from 10 to 29 inches long, with an average length of 16 inches.
“It’s a very healthy walleye fishery, and people know that,” Altena said. “But Big Birch is also unique from a structure standpoint. It has just about every type of structure you could want for all (fish) species.”
Those species include the lake’s largemouth and smallmouth bass, which often are found in similar locations. Both are present in strong numbers, and it’s not a big surprise to put a 20-inch fish topside.
These are chunky bass that grow relatively fast. Altena says recruitment is consistent, which means there’s always younger fish coming up in the system. As for catching bass, the lake’s abundant structure provides plenty of options for both smallies and largemouths.
“It’s a fun lake to fish bass on because of its wide variety of habitat,” he said. “You might find them together, but there are plenty of weedlines for largemouth or rocks and humps for smallmouths.”
Big Birch is well known as a consistent panfish lake as well. Bluegills are more prevalent than crappies, but its crappies can run good-sized. Altena said “impressive” crappies are sampled each time the lake is surveyed.
While bluegills up to 9 inches are not out of the question, most will be somewhere in the vicinity of 7 to 8 inches long. An average-size crappie from Big Birch will run about 11 inches in length.
“Most of the sunfish you catch will be about the size of your hand, and crappies between 11 and 13 inches are caught regularly,” Campbell said. “There’s nothing to whine about with the panfish in Big Birch.”
If you’re looking to catch a larger pike in this area, Big Birch would be one of the better options for doing so. Once riddled with an abundance of small fish, the size structure of the lake’s northern pike has improved in recent years.
While a wide range of sizes still exist, those 5- to 8-pound pike seem to be more abundant than they once were. In the most recent survey, the number of northern pike over 25 inches was about high as they’ve ever been.
Although the largest pike sampled last month topped out at just over 30 inches in length, you can be sure bigger pike are present.
“It was only one survey, so we’ll see if the trend continues over time, but there is an indication that the size structure is shifting,” Altena said.
Big Birch Lake
Nearest town……………Grey Eagle
Surface area………………2,106 acres
Maximum depth…………….81 feet
Shore length………………….15 miles
Water clarity………………………6 feet
AIS present………….Zebra mussel
Fish species present:
Walleye, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, black crappie, bluegill, northern pike, pumpkinseed, hybrid sunfish, green sunfish, yellow perch, bullhead, rock bass, tullibee (cisco), white sucker, common carp, bowfin (dogfish).
DNR area fisheries office (320) 232-1069, the DNR website http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind or Nancy’s Bait and Tackle (320) 285-2405.