‘Poster child’ Pelican keeps anglers returning to OTC
By Glen Schmitt
Otter Tail County’s Pelican Lake, or Big Pelican, as it’s known, is part of the Pelican River system. The chain also includes lakes such as Bass, Fish, Lizzie, and Little Pelican.
At nearly 4,000 acres, Pelican is a big lake that’s loaded with an abundance of structure that provides excellent year-round fishing opportunities. It is one of the more consistent fish producers and better multi-species lakes this area has to offer.
Walleyes typically are the main draw for many anglers, and Pelican has a lot of them, including big fish. Natural reproduction plays a significant role in its walleye population, as does stocking, to the tune of 1.6 million fry on an every-other-year basis.
That combination seems to have done more than just maintain a walleye population. It’s actually built walleye numbers that are currently some of the highest ever seen in the lake.
The DNR conducted a survey of Pelican in July, and gill nets averaged nearly 16 walleyes per lift – the second highest total ever recorded. Fish from 8 to 25 inches were sampled, with almost no gaps in year-classes seen.
“Pelican is an amazing walleye fishery with consistent year-classes, and we know people catch a lot of fish out there,” said Jim Wolters, DNR Fisheries supervisor in Fergus Falls. “Walleye numbers are good, the pike population is low, and forage in the way of perch is high. It’s really the poster child for what we wish we could do with all our lakes.”
Muskies also are well established in Pelican, benefiting from a regimen of more than 800 stocked fingerlings annually, along with some documented natural reproduction.
While Pelican’s generally not known for kicking out large fish – muskies over 50 inches – they do exist in its waters. The main draw regarding Pelican’s muskies is the consistent balance within the population. Results from the past three DNR muskie surveys have all been around 40 fish sampled.
“Pelican is one of the better muskie lakes we have in this area, and it usually gets really good in the fall when people start using big sucker minnows,” said Mickey McCollum, of the Lakeland General Store in Pelican Rapids. “The guys who know where to look catch big muskies, and it’s a pretty regular occurrence to hook into a big pike, too, while fishing for muskies.”
The lake’s northern pike population is low, but there are quality fish. Pike averaged 25 inches in length in this summer’s survey. In addition, 14 of the 70 pike sampled were over 30 inches long, so the lake’s pike population is about as ideal as it could be.
The entire chain provides excellent panfish habitat as well, although spawning habitat is a bit better in Pelican’s connected lakes – Fish, Little Pelican, and Bass. Crappies tend to be more numerous than bluegills in Pelican and typically have a better average size.
Crappies in the 10- to 11-inch class are common, with some bigger fish mixed in, while bluegills slightly bigger than your hand can be expected. Both are present in fairly strong numbers.
“Overall, crappies are doing well for size and numbers, and we see consistent recruitment. There are always five to seven year-classes in our surveys,” Wolters said. “Bluegill numbers were down a bit in 2021 from the 2018 survey, but the quality is there, with a quite a few fish over 8 inches or bigger sampled.”
Largemouth bass are not overly abundant in Pelican, but its smallmouth bass population is well established. Wolters says it’s not a lake where you’d expect to catch a lot of largemouths, but one you should expect to catch a quality smallmouth.
“Smallmouths are doing better at this point,” he said.”Pelican is one you hear about for big smallmouth bass.”
Nearest town….Pelican Rapids
Surface area……………3,962 acres
Maximum depth………….55 feet
Shore length……………….17 miles
Water clarity………………….11 feet
Fish species present:
Walleye, muskie, black crappie, bluegill, northern pike, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, pumpkinseed, yellow perch, green sunfish, hybrid sunfish, rock bass, tullibee (cisco), white sucker, bigmouth buffalo, bowfin (dogfish).
DNR area fisheries office (218) 671-7931, the DNR website http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind or Lakeland General Store (218) 863-5703.