Southern strain winning walleye study in Lake Okabena
By Glen Schmitt
There aren’t a lot of lakes in Nobles County, but the few that exist in this part of southern Minnesota do offer some decent fishing opportunities.
Arguably the best, and certainly the most popular, is Lake Okabena, a 776-acre fishery in the city of Worthington that gets heavy use from anglers and recreational boaters alike.
Okabena is relatively shallow, but it’s a solid walleye lake whose current population of ’eyes is fueled by natural reproduction and annual stocking of fry by the Minnesota DNR.
The lake also holds healthy numbers of black and white crappies, a few bluegills and pike, some respectable perch, and plenty of channel catfish. In short, it’s a fine multi-species fishery.
“From an angling standpoint, Okabena has lots of fishing opportunity and access to fish it,” said Ryan Doorenbos, DNR Fisheries supervisor in Windom. “Much of the lake is surrounded by public property, so it’s unique in the sense that there’s a lot of area to fish from shore. People utilize it and do well.”
The lake is stocked with two strains of walleyes as part of an ongoing study to see which one has more benefit to the lake. The Lower Mississippi – LMS – or Lake Sarah strain, and the more traditional northern Minnesota Mississippi strain – MIS – have both been stocked equally since 2018.
To date, it appears the nontraditional Lake Sarah strain is performing best. Over 80% of the walleyes sampled in targeted DNR surveys during the past few years were Lake Sarah-strain fish.
Those fish, combined with some years of significant natural reproduction along with the stocked MIS fish, currently have Okabena’s walleye numbers in a pretty good place. Gill nets averaged 10 walleyes per lift in the DNR’s most recent standard survey of Okabena.
“We have another survey scheduled for this summer, and I honestly think walleye numbers will jump even more,” Doorenbos said. “We’re seeing good natural reproduction in Okabena, so between that and what’s happening with the Lake Sarah strain, it has a healthy walleye population right now.”
Black and white crappies have been constants in the system, fluctuating in numbers through the years, but always prevalent enough to provide quality angling opportunities for both.
During the 2018 survey, the combined crappie population consisted of fish from 4 to 10 inches in length, with an average length of just over 7 inches. The results were dominated by small fish, which should mean some really good crappie fishing at this point.
“Black crappies are a little more dominant, but anglers don’t care; they both fry up nice,” Doorenbos said. “Quite a few people target crappies on Okabena. They catch nice, keeping-size fish, and you do see bigger fish out there.”
There are enough perch that sneak through the jaws of the lake’s walleyes to provide a bonus fish in the bag. They cycle up and down and averaged 91⁄2 inches in gill nets during the 2018 survey, with a few perch over 11 inches sampled.
Bluegill numbers are low, mainly due to the lake’s habitat – cloudy water, limited vegetation, and mostly sand and gravel, which is better suited for walleyes. But there are ‘gills over 8 inches present.
Northern pike also exist in low numbers and currently are not a management species for the DNR. But anglers do have a couple of other fishing options in Okabena in the way of freshwater drum and channel catfish.
Catfish have been around for a long time, while drum first showed up in the lake during a 2014 survey. Both species are quite numerous.
“If you’re looking to do some fishing for catfish, Okabena would be a good destination,” Doorenbos added.
Surface area………………776 acres
Maximum depth…………..16 feet
Shore length……………..6.5 miles
Water clarity……………………2 feet
Fish species present:
Walleye, black crappie, white crappie, yellow perch, bluegill, pumpkinseed, northern pike, channel catfish, hybrid sunfish, orangespotted sunfish, freshwater drum, bullhead, white sucker, common carp, bigmouth buffalo.
DNR area fisheries office (507) 832-6013, the DNR website http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind.