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Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Darling Lake, Douglas County

Darling’s bass are dear to anglers

By Glen Schmitt
Staff Writer

The Alexandria Chain of Lakes might be Douglas County’s premier fishing and vacation destination. Via a series of navigable channels, anglers and recreational users can get to six of the 11 lakes within the system.

Among them is Lake Darling, a 1,050-acre fishery that’s set up very much like its connected waters – the just-as-popular Lake Le Homme Dieu, Lake Carlos, and Lake Geneva, among others. 

These are well-known largemouth bass-fishing lakes – not just locally, but among national bass crowds as well – and Lake Darling has always been part of that coveted bass-fishing mix.

“The entire chain is world-renowned as a bass-fishing destination, and Darling is right up there,” said Dana Freese, of Christopherson’s Bait and Tackle in Alexandria. “It also fishes very similarly to the other lakes for bass and its panfish and walleyes.”

From a bass-fishing standpoint, that means Darling has no shortage of spots to work. You can connect with good numbers of largemouths on every type of structure imaginable and with any presentation you like to throw.

Darling runs the gamut of quality bass-holding areas, with an abundance of shallow cover, deep weeds, docks, and expansive flats that all seem to produce fish.

“I think the bass fishing has actually gotten better in recent  years (on Darling),” Freese added. “The average size of its bass has noticeably improved from what it used to have.”

Panfish have been a staple for anglers on Darling as well. Crappies tend to garner a bit more attention among anglers, but the lake’s bluegills are numerous and seem to be improving in size.

The lake is also a year-round panfish producer, with amped-up crappie-fishing pressure in its shallows during the spring, weedlines in the summer, and deep water during the fall and winter months.

According to Freese, crappie-angling success fluctuates from year to year – as it does on most lakes with cycling crappie populations – but Darling has remained quite consistent.  

Darling’s bluegill population consists of high numbers and plenty of keeping-size fish – those that tend to top out around 8 inches in length. The lake has ideal panfish habitat as well, which leads to consistent recruitment of its crappies and bluegills.

“It’s a pretty consistent crappie lake with fair-size fish – lots of 10- to 12-inch crappies,” Freese said. “And it has lots and lots of bluegills that have been better in size over the last four or five years. They’re keepable, but not those 9- and 10-inchers.”

The walleye population in Darling is considered modest, according to a DNR assessment. Despite annual stocking efforts by the DNR and private groups, along with some natural reproduction and the ability for walleyes to move between lakes, walleye numbers are somewhat light.

Gill net catches during a DNR survey in 2020 averaged 1.3 walleyes per lift. The catch consisted of mostly fish over six years of age that averaged almost 19 inches in length.

Zebra mussels were discovered in Darling in 2009, and that’s also changed the way anglers approach fishing for walleyes, due to ever-clearing water. In recent years, water clarity has consistently been greater than 15 feet.

“It has a fair walleye population, with generally better fishing in the fall and early ice if people can get out there,” Freese said. “But the water is super-clear, so (walleyes) can be tough to catch – low light is best.”

Northern pike are abundant, but on the small side – more of a nuisance for anglers fishing other species. 

Also noteworthy: There is no public access on Lake Darling, but it is accessible from the Lake Carlos access.

Lake Darling

Nearest town………..Alexandria

Surface area……………1,050 acres 

Maximum depth………….62 feet

Shore length…………………7 miles

Water clarity………………….13 feet

Fish species present:

Largemouth bass, black crappie, bluegill, walleye, northern pike, pumpkinseed, hybrid sunfish, yellow perch, bullhead, rock bass, tullibee (cisco), white sucker. 

For information:

DNR area fisheries office (320) 634-7323, the DNR website http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind or Christopherson’s Bait and Tackle (320) 763-3255.

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