Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Upper Hay Lake, Crow Wing County

Fishing on Crow Wing’s Upper Hay is seldom a downer

By Glen Schmitt
Staff Writer

Upper Hay Lake is tucked into the northwest portion of Crow Wing County, just east of Jenkins, a small town located on Highway 371. 

At just 596 acres, it’s by no means a big body of water, but it does have some character. Upper Hay offers anglers quite a bit of structure to work with, including numerous underwater bars, flats, points, and plenty of vegetation.

It also holds a healthy crappie population, respectable largemouth bass in both numbers and size, and enough walleyes to make them worth a look.

“It’s a bass/panfish lake, which is pretty typical around this area,” said Carl Mills, DNR Fisheries specialist in Brainerd. “But Upper Hay has a few more walleyes in it than a lot of lakes, especially for its size.”

As far as panfish-angling opportunities, the lake’s crappies tend to garner more attention than do its bluegills. With plenty of bulrush stands along Upper Hay’s shoreline, spawning options are ideal, which allows for pretty consistent crappie recruitment year after year.

The DNR surveyed the lake in 2020, and although crappie numbers weren’t that strong, traditional survey methods tend not to provide a fair representation of a lake’s panfish numbers.

But the crappies sampled were an accurate representation of what anglers can expect as far as size from those in Hay Lake. They averaged 9 inches in length, fish up to 12 inches were measured, and nearly 50% of those crappies were at least 8 inches long.

“That seems about right – kind of how it’s always been for crappies out there,” said Glen Belgum, member of the Nisswa Guides League and regular chaser of Hay Lake’s crappies. “It has a good crappie population and I expect to catch good crappies when I’m on Upper Hay. There are plenty of them to be caught.”

The lake‘s bluegills averaged less than 5 inches in length in last summer’s survey and there weren’t many over 7 inches sampled. But Mills said he’s caught bluegills up to 9 inches long from Upper Hay, so it’s likely the standard netting gear used missed some bluegills as well. 

Walleye fry are stocked annually in Upper Hay, and that seems to be maintaining a decent population. The DNR’s management goal for the lake is six walleyes per net in its surveys. 

In 2020, gill nets averaged 3.4 walleyes per lift, which is a solid number and up from the previous survey in 2014 when nets averaged less than two walleyes per lift.

Upper Hay’s walleyes also tend to run good-sized. They averaged 16 inches in length in 2020, and fish over 28 inches were caught. That seems to be the caliber of walleye Belgum has come to expect from Upper Hay.

“You catch some bigger walleyes, but 16- to 18-inchers are pretty common and they’re nice, solid fish,” Belgum said. “It has a lot of stuff (structure) to fish, too. Upper Hay is a fun little lake to fish walleyes on.”

The quality and quantity of the lake’s largemouth bass is respectable. But in an area that’s loaded with quality bass lakes, Upper Hay is often overlooked.

Bass up to 18 inches are not out of the question, but most will be in that 12- to 16-inch range. The lake’s well-defined weedlines and bulrush areas should provide plenty of bass-fishing action.

“Bass recruitment is typically good, so we see a variety of sizes out there,” Mills said. “They’re not monsters – just a nice overall size structure.”

Northern pike tend to run on the small side, averaging just 19 inches in length and topping out at 27 inches long during the 2020 survey. If there’s an upside, pike numbers declined from over 12 per gill net in 2014 to less than four per net last summer.

Upper Hay Lake

Nearest town………………Jenkins

Surface area………………596 acres 

Maximum depth………….42 feet

Shore length…………………4 miles

Water clarity……………………9 feet

AIS present………Zebra mussel

Fish species present:

Black crappie, bluegill, walleye, largemouth bass, northern pike, pumpkinseed, hybrid sunfish, yellow perch, bullhead, rock bass, white sucker, bowfin (dogfish). 

For information:

DNR area fisheries office (218) 203-4301, the DNR website or S&W Bait and Guide Service (218) 829-7010.

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