September 30, 2010
Trophy pike may be hard to find south of the Twin Cities, but these lakes may be hiding a few. (January 2009)
Numerous locations south of the Twin Cities have the capability of producing pike weighing 10 pounds or more.
Photo by Billy Lindner/Windigo Images.
We had been watching the screen for nearly an hour. It was my first opportunity to view the activity in the water beneath a frozen surface and I was mesmerized by what I was seeing. As the camera focused on the edge of a 6-foot weedline, numerous perch, bass and an occasional walleye unwittingly became targets of the lens. Despite all of this activity, a spoon being deftly jigged within the same frame was often perused, but never lunged at.
Then the pike moved in.
One moment the screen was serene, the next we were staring at the face of a mighty predator. The fish appeared to idle for several seconds as it looked directly at the camera, with only the temporarily motionless spoon separating the two. From the corner of my eye, I saw my fishing partner twitch his rod tip. The spoon reacted accordingly and in the shortest of a split second, so did the northern pike. The fish coiled like a snake before baring its teeth and pouncing upon the artificial prey. The explosiveness and precision of the strike was incredible.
As the fish was hoisted to the surface, it became apparent that the close proximity of the camera had somewhat distorted the actual size of the pike. The fish appeared on the screen to be the size of an alligator. It turned out to weigh about 3 pounds. However, having seen the power exerted by this average-sized fish, I have a better understanding and renewed respect for the aggressive nature of a northern pike.
As the ice continues to thicken, we have reached the point in a Minnesota winter that I often compare to the dog days of summer. The walleye bite has slowed to a crawl, panfish are scattered and deep and the bass season has come to a close. Just as they would in July and August, many fishermen are turning their attention toward northern pike. This is a fish that resides in nearly every river and lake within our state, strikes with the speed of a rattlesnake and fights like a ferocious bulldog. Yet, northern pike spend most of their time playing second fiddle to our state's walleye population. It may only be during the dog days, either summer or winter, when they come out of the shadows and step into the spotlight.
There are numerous locations south of the Twin Cities that have the capability and history of producing fish that approach and sometimes surpass 10 pounds. Although most of the lakes down south do not have the proper foliage and forage to consistently produce large pike, many of the deeper lakes and some of the expansive prairie potholes do a pretty good job. The following is a closer look at several southern lakes that offer the opportunity to tangle with the teeth of a large northern pike. (Continued)
Located in Rice County, just a few miles northwest of Faribault, Lake Mazaska is a popular destination. Accesses to this 680-acre lake are located on the southern shoreline along State Highway 21, near the town of Shieldsville. With a maximum depth of 50 feet, Lake Mazaska supports a good forage base for the growth of northern pike. This abundance of baitfish is a key to producing trophy pike.
Over the past 10 years, test net surveys conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have consistently shown that the lake maintains an excellent population of northerns. While a majority of the surveyed fish is usually in the 2- to 4-pound range, pike exceeding 30 inches also appear in the nets on a yearly basis. While there is certainly some natural reproduction that occurs here, the lake is also regularly stocked with thousands of additional fry.
A big northern is pulled from the ice.
Photo by Craig Birhle/Windigo Images.
Throughout the winter months, Lake Mazaska's southern and eastern shorelines tend to attract the most attention. Northerns are often found at the edge of the weedline and across a pair of sandbars, both of which drop sharply into very deep pockets. In this area, tip-ups placed in 8 to 12 feet of water usually produce the best results. Jigging spoons can also entice a strike in and near the numerous deep holes that dot the central portion of the lake.
When northern pike refuse to cooperate, Lake Mazaska has plenty of other options to consider. Walleyes are fairly numerous and panfish are both plump and abundant. For more information regarding Lake Mazaska and other lakes in this area, contact the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce at (507) 334-4381 or visit www.faribaultmn.org.
A 650-acre lake in southern Martin County, this prairie pothole lacks the deep, cool water generally required to produce monster pike. In fact, the maximum depth of Bright Lake is a mere 10 feet and much of the water is no deeper than a tall man. However, what the fishery lacks in depth, it makes up for with intangibles. Bright Lake is about 10 minutes south of Fairmont, with a public access located a few miles east of State Highway 263, along the lake's southern shore.
The spawning habitat combined with a series of mild winters, is making this lake a hotspot for winter pike. Bright Lake is directly connected with a chain of marshes that serves as an incredible spawning bed and rearing pond. It is a virtual paradise for the natural reproduction of pike and baitfish alike.
The body of water is susceptible to winterkill, making it difficult to consistently maintain a population of adult pike. Fortunately, this has not happened for many years. Therefore, several generations of pike have had the opportunity to near their life expectancy, while facing little competition for an ample amount of food. Recent test net surveys indicate that a healthy population of adult pike currently exists, with some fish that exceed 30 inches. Bright Lake has a history of producing northern pike as large as 40 inches.
There is very little structure found across the flat bottom of the lake. A small, slightly deeper pocket is located in the northeastern corner, near the connecting slews. This is a good place to find the lake's largest pike, but anglers must be certain that ice conditions are safe before venturing to this portion of the lake. Otherwise, pike are scattered, and a tip-up rigged with a large sucker minnow is the most likely presentation to deliver results.
hroughout the year, local anglers take advantage of the excellent population of both black and white crappies that exists in Bright Lake. They are numerous and above average in size. For more information, contact the Fairmont Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 657-3280, or visit www.visitfairmontmn.com.
Duck Lake, tucked into the northeastern corner of Blue Earth County, is a small lake that quietly produces some hefty northern pike. A public access is located along the lake's southern shoreline, along County Highway 26. As winter progresses and the walleye bite continues to slow on the area's larger and more popular lakes, this is an option worth considering.
Covering only 290 acres, with a maximum depth of 25 feet, Duck Lake would seem to be somewhat limited in the essentials needed to produce large pike. For the most part, this is true, but the same limiting factors can also have a positive effect. The minimal amount of natural reproduction that occurs here requires the lake be stocked with pike fry to maintain a stable population. That means no more pike are placed in the lake than what fisheries specialists believe it can sustain. Approximately 60,000 fry are introduced annually.
On the other hand, panfish thrive here. With a modest number of adult pike competing for a plentiful supply of food, every individual fish has the opportunity to gain girth. Although this type of diet is not conducive for an exceptional growth rate, pike as large as 34 inches have been recorded here.
Duck Lake is also known for a hot panfish bite in late winter. The crappies found here are plump and bluegills are abundant. For more information, contact the Greater Mankato Area Chamber of Commerce at (507) 345-4519.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is able to keep a close eye on the northern pike within this 1,300-acre body of water, literally, as the Waterville Area Fisheries Office is located along the lake's southern shoreline. Lake Tetonka, in Le Sueur County, stretches northwest from the city of Waterville and the intersection of state highways 13 and 60. A public access is located a few miles west of town along County Highway 14.
Reports of large pike coming from Tetonka have steadily increased in recent years. After suffering a decline in numbers at the end of the century, the lake was stocked with nearly 300,000 northern pike fry. The lake's structure, forage and foliage is fairly accommodating for pike and gives them the ability to reach lunker status. Test netting in recent years has shown that the lake is now home to a good population of fish, many that easily surpass 30 inches.
The maximum depth in Lake Tetonka is a modest 35 feet, but much of the lake exceeds 20 feet. Numerous humps, sunken islands, rockpiles and other assorted structure make a lake map a near necessity for an unfamiliar angler. Look for pike to hit shiners or suckers in the bays and around the points, while jigging spoons will occasionally produce fish in the deeper water.
Regardless of what you would like to catch, it probably swims in Lake Tetonka. Besides northern pike, fishermen are entertained here by walleyes, bluegills, black crappies and three varieties of bass. Ice-anglers must be very cautious. The Cannon River flows through the lake and ice conditions are always a concern. For more information on Lake Tetonka and other lakes in this area, contact the Waterville Chamber of Commerce at (507) 362-4609.
This is a lake that consistently produces large pike because of natural reproduction and a plentiful food supply. Although the eastern portion of the lake has been dredged to a depth of 15 feet, much of the elongated and narrow lake is very shallow. Aerators have been placed at two locations in the 1,750-acre lake to help prevent winterkill. The last reported kill was in the winter of 2000, so fish have had plenty of time to rebound. Lake Hanska is in Brown County, 15 miles south of New Ulm. Accesses are located at the eastern end of the lake, off county highways 6 and 11.
The total population of northern pike in Lake Hanska may be a bit disappointing, but their size is not. In recent DNR surveys, the number of fish that were captured was below average for a lake of this type. However, their weight was very impressive. The 2006 gill net survey recorded pike averaging nearly 8 pounds and those documented in trap nets a whopping 9 pounds. The largest pike measured 37 inches in length. Since the oldest and largest pike can be quite adept at avoiding nets, it is certainly possible that a few 40-inch fish are present.
In the spring of 2001, following deadly low oxygen levels of the previous winter, Lake Hanska was restocked with northern pike, bluegills, black crappies, walleyes and channel catfish. It appears that all species are doing quite well and the lake is often mentioned in local angling reports. For more information, contact the New Ulm Area Chamber of Commerce at (507) 233-4300.
ST. JAMES LAKE
Since being reclaimed in 2001, this Watonwan County lake has emerged as an excellent little fishery. The pike aren't huge and probably never will be, but they are respectable and still growing. Located in the city of St. James, the 250-acre lake and has been dredged to a depth of about 15 feet.
Although St. James Lake lacks most of the components required to produce truly trophy pike, it appears that they have a tendency to grow fairly fast here. The lake was stocked with 110 adult northerns in 2003 and nearly 3,000 fingerlings in 2006. During the summer of 2007, test nets determined that some of the northern pike in St. James Lake were approaching 30 inches. The fish that were sampled averaged more than 5 pounds in the trap nets, and 3 1/2 pounds in gill nets. Fish were recorded in every length category, an indication that some natural reproduction is occurring. The entire population was reported to be healthy.
The eventual size that adult northern pike are able to reach is likely limited by several factors in this small lake. With the exception of catch-and-release, most of them are beyond our control. Although a 20-pound fish may never be caught here, St. James Lake appears capable of putting a few flags in the air this winter and in the future. It is a lake on the rise. Contact the St. James Chamber of Commerce at (507) 375-3333 for more information.
Located in Le Sueur County north of the city of Elysian, German Lake is one of the deepest lakes in southern Minnesota. A maximum depth of 50 feet can be found in this 900-acre lake, with numerous pockets that are greater than 30 feet. Access to the lake is available along County Highway 11 in the northeast and County Highway 13 to the west.
German Lake consistently maintains an above-average number of northern pike and has a history of producing some very large fish. Anglers can expect to catch pike in a broad size range at German Lake. In addition to an ample area that is suitable for natural reproduction, this lake is directly connected with Lake Jefferson, another fishery that is highly respected by local pike anglers.
It would be a good idea to look at a map of the lake before ta
ckling it. It has very irregular bottom contour and various forms of structure. Many anglers focus their attention on a submerged bar that extends into the center of the lake from near the northern access. At the point of the bar the water drops sharply into deep holes on both sides. The western portion of the lake is fairly shallow and weedy. Tip-ups may produce results here, especially near the confluence with Lake Jefferson.
The structure, size and depth of German Lake provide a good environment for several species. The panfish bite is good here, although anglers often complain about the size of the fish. Walleyes are also available in a variety of sizes. For more information about German Lake, contact the Elysian Tourism Center at (800) 507-7787.
For maps and more information regarding all of the lakes mentioned in this article, contact the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at (800) 657-3757 or visit www.dnr.state.mn.us.