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Fishing opener: Life is good for walleyes swimming in Cass Lake

CASS LAKE — Life is good if you are a walleye swimming in the Cass Lake Chain, especially if you have an urge to constantly be on the move.

“With Cass Lake, Andrusia, Big, Kitchi, the Rice Lakes, the Mississippi River and the Turtle River all part of the chain, walleyes can move around all they want. And they do,” said Bemidji Area DNR Fisheries Large Lake Specialist Tony Kennedy.

Much of the walleye movement occurs during the spawning season because the chain is filled with perfect habitat.

“There is high-quality spawning substrate (gravel bottom) below the Power Dam. Walleyes can also run up to the Turtle River to spawn and they can run up through the Mississippi,” Kennedy said. “There also are many areas in the lakes where they can spawn so the Cass Lake Chain walleyes have many options.”

The walleye population in the chain also benefits from an aggressive stocking program that puts millions of fry into the system each year.

The natural spawn and the fry stocking have combined for a healthy walleye population throughout the chain and steady numbers in Cass Lake itself.

“Our walleye catch rates in our Cass Lake gill nets last year were similar to the long-term average,” Kennedy said. “There currently are strong year classes from 2008 and 2011 and the 2013 numbers were off the chart. Last year our sampling catch rates of the 2013 year class were almost double the catch rates of the previous highs and that is a good sign for the future of the walleyes in Cass Lake.”

The 2013 fish were seven to eight inches long and it will be a few years before they develop into keeper fish. The 2008 class also is very strong in the system and those fish will be about 17 inches long this summer. The other predominant class, the 2011 fish, will measure about 13 to 14 inches on opening weekend.

“The 2008 and 2011 fish should provide good numbers of eater-size fish for the next few years and the 2013 class will be ready to replace the other strong year classes in the future,” Kennedy said.

Cass Lake also is one of the targeted lakes for the area muskie anglers and the vast majority of the muskies in the lake are naturally produced.

“Cass Lake is a native muskie water and has been stocked a few times but not since the 1970s,” Kennedy said. “The lake doesn’t have a reputation for catching as many big muskies as you could catch on Lake Bemidji or Plantagenet but in our sample netting we did catch many muskies 50 inches and larger.”

Muskie anglers also occasionally hook into a large pike and 16 percent of the female northern pike sampled by the DNR were 28 inches or larger.

The pike and the muskies have a steady supply of perch to dine on but the majority of the fish are on the edge of “keeper” status.

Last year’s sampling catch rates of perch increased 30 percent compared to 2012 but the majority of the fish were small. Perch over 8 inches represented 20 percent of the sample, however, and some of the perch approached 12 inches.

“It might take a little sorting but fishermen will still be able to catch some very nice perch in Cass Lake,” Kennedy said. “There are numbers of perch 6 and 7 inches in the system and that is good because they provide the forage base for the walleyes and the other predator species.

“Those 6-inchers will grow into 10-inchers,” Kennedy added.

Anglers working Cass Lake this summer and next year will likely meet a DNR creel survey clerk who will gather data on the success of the trip.

“If you encounter our clerk please take just a few minutes to answer the questions,” Kennedy said. “It will only take a minute or two and getting accurate information is vital to managing fish populations in the lake.”

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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