Matt Peterson, Austin Daily Herald, Minn. –
The heat wave has broken, but it’s much too late for two area lakes and their fish.
While a few bluegills and crappies were reported dead on Austin’s East Side Lake, extreme heat killed more than 200 northern pike on Albert Lea’s Fountain Lake this weekend; and local fishing enthusiasts are reporting “catastrophic” amounts dead on Geneva Lake — perhaps tens of thousands.
“I know we did have a pretty major die off of northern pike on Geneva Lake,” said Jeanine Vorland, Department of Natural Resources area wildlife manager. “Probably several thousand.”
Most northerns that died were 2 to 3 years old. Yearling northerns may be OK, Vorland said.
Scott Mackenthun, DNR Fisheries assistant supervisor in Waterville, said northern pike, which are classified as a “cool-water fish,” have the most problems with excessive heat. Perhaps the only saving grace from even further die-off was the breeze, which kept waters a little bit cooler.
Despite the major die-off, Mackenthun has seen this phenomena in southern Minnesota’s shallow lakes and isn’t too worried.
“I’m certain it’s not a complete kill. There will still be northern pike in that lake,” he said.
Still, rain could have helped alleviate such a large die-off.
“The one thing we really need right now is a cool rain,” said Dave Villarreal, president of the Fountain Lake Sportsmen’s Club.
Albert Lea Fifth Ward Councilor Larry Anderson, who is also a member of the Sportsmen’s Club, said the temperature of Fountain Lake was 90 degrees on Friday and 86 on Saturday. He hoped water temperature was decreasing with the air temperature.
Anderson said he was out early Saturday on his boat on Fountain Lake and then out again later that day with his grandchildren. He said he counted 233 dead fish all over the lake.
Estimates of dead fish on Geneva Lake are in the “tens of thousands,” Villarreal said.
Dead fish are also being reported on Bear Lake.
There were no reports of dead fish on Albert Lea Lake.
Villarreal said one of the main reasons the fish are dying on Fountain Lake is because the lake is so shallow. While there are some areas that are more shallow and some that are deeper, the average is about six feet deep.
“We need to get this lake dredged,” he noted.
Until that happens, there is a potential of more and more fish dying.
The Shell Rock River Watershed District and the city of Albert Lea began pushing for funding to dredge Fountain Lake during the most recent legislative session but to no avail.
Villarreal said it is frustrating to see the fish die after he and other Department of Natural Resources work to repopulate the lakes with fish each year. People have been catching northerns as long as 41 inches, which before this year has been almost unheard of, he noted.
“I hate to see all this effort go to waste because it’s so shallow,” Villarreal said. “The deeper the lake is, the better chance they have of surviving.”
He said the club will be pushing to get the lake dredged.
Look to a future issue of the Tribune for more information about the fish on Geneva Lake.
—Sarah Stultz contributed to this report.