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DNR MN

Status of the Fishery (as of 07/12/2010)

Big Sandy Lake is located in northeastern Aitkin County approximately 9 miles north of McGregor. At 6,526 acres, it is second only to Mille Lacs in size and popularity in the Aitkin area. The lake is heavily developed with 936 homes/c

The lake is characterized as a fertile walleye lake abins around the lake and several resorts/campgrounds. The Army Corps of Engineers also operates a campground/recreation area at the outlet on the northwest side of the lake. There are also multiple public accesses surrounding the east, west, and south sides. Special regulations for walleye (14-18" harvest slot with 1 over 26") and bluegill (bag of 5 fish) will begin on May 14, 2011.comprised of several habitat types. These include the open, windswept main basin; the deep cool eastern basin, Bill Horn Bay; the shallower and more isolated south basin, Webster Bay; and shallow bays containing dense rice beds on the south, east and northeast sides of the lake. The maximum depth is 84' and about 47% of the lake is 15' deep or less. Walleyes are the most popular target for anglers and it is managed essentially as a walleye lake. Big Sandy has been deemed "impaired", due to high phosphorus levels, by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and is undergoing watershed and water quality analysis via the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study and plan for the lake.

Walleye were commonly stocked in Big Sandy prior to 1995. Most were fry stockings, although the frequency varied from annual to every third year. Relative success of stocked vs non-stocked year classes was similar, therefore walleye stocking was discontinued in 1996. In the years shortly after the cessation of stocking, excellent year classes were produced, however recruitment in this decade appears to have been relatively poor.

The walleye catch increased from 2.3/gill net in 2009 to 4.3/gill net in 2010. Past catches2009. The increase in relative abundance and smaller average size are largely due to a strong 2008 year class (age 2) that accounted for 38% of the walleyes sampled. Historically 25% to 72% of all walleyes sampled by gill net were less than 12" with the average near 50%. In 2010, 77% were less than 12", again, due primarily to the presence of the 2008 year class. Six additional year classes were present in the gill nets with 89% being ages 1-4 (2006-2009). Recent analyses of this young age structure suggest that relatively high angler exploitation may be limiting recruitment into the spawning stock, which has affected annual recruitment this decade. Growth of Big  have averaged 5.5/gill net. Average length and weight were 10.7" and 0.5 lbs in 2010, compared to 11.7" and 0.6 lbs in Sandy walleyes is typically slow, though they are in good condition.

Northern pike abundance was also relatively low at 2.3/gill net. Past catches have ranged from 0.9 to 5.8/gill net with an average of 5.3/gill net. Average length and weight were 20.6" and 2.2 lbs with 14% measuring at least 24". Age 2-4 fish (2006-2008 year classes) were most abundant, accounting for 69% of all northern pike sampled.

Tullibee and yellow perch are important forage species for the lake's game fish and also provide additional opportunities for anglers. Yellow perch catches have been declining since 1990, falling to 5.1/gill net in 2010. The average size of perch was 8.2" and 26% were 9" or longer. Tullibee are a cold-water fish and are usually limited to the confines of Bill Horn Bay during the summer months. While they provide quality forage for northern pike and walleye, with fish averaging 11.8" and individual fish measuring nearly 17", they also appear to be of interest to anglers. Anecdotal reports indicate a relatively new winter angling fishery for tullibee appears to be developing on Big Sandy.

Smallmouth bass were sampled for the first time in Big Sandy in 2009, though none were sampled in 2010. Although only 2 fish were caught (0.13/gill net), it corroborates angler observations of an emerging smallmouth bass population.

Bluegill abundance has never been high on Big Sandy, ranging from 0-4.5/trap net. The 2010 catch of 3.0/trap net is low compared to similar lakes, even though it is the second highest catch to date. Black crappies were caught in good numbers in 2010 and both species had a good size structure, providing a unique fishery for the area. The crappie fishery in recent years has been the mainstay of the fishery while walleye abundance was low. As walleye increase in numbers, crappies will be expected to decrease, while still maintaining good size structure and catchable population levels. Anecdotal observations of young of year crappie in the fall electrofishing survey suggest that 2010 year class may be very strong.

Note: Special regulations for walleye (14-18" harvest slot with 1 over 26") and sunfish (bag of 5 fish) will begin on May 14, 2011. 

Status of the Fishery (as of 07/11/2005)

Big Sandy Lake is characterized as a large fertile walleye lake comprised of several habitat types. These include the open, windswept main basin, the deep cool eastern basin-Bill Horn Bay, the shallower and more isolated south basin-Webster Bay, and shallow bays containing dense rice beds on the south, east and northeast sides of the lake. The lake is currently managed for walleye, northern pike and black crappie. Walleyes are the most popular target for anglers, particularly in the main basin. 

The walleye in Big Sandy grow slowly and tend to be smaller on average than lakes with a faster growth rate. Past management has included a long history of various stocking strategies for walleye dating back to 1917. No measurable changes in the walleye abundance were detected due to stocking, therefore stocking was discontinued in 1995. Furthermore, the strongest year class of walleyes ever produced was in 1994, which was a year when stocking did not occur. The mean length for walleyes caught in the survey gill nets was only 10.8 inches long and only six percent measured 18 inches or longer. The size distribution was similar to what was found in previous surveys and gillnet catch rates were virtually identical to what was observed in 2001 at 3.2 fish per net. Survey data indicates that current catch rates are lower than what was documented through the 1990's when gill net catch rates ranged between 5.2 and 9.4 fish per net. Five different age classes were represented in this survey with the 2002 and 2003 year classes being the strongest. These fish will recruit to the sport fishery in the next couple of years. The walleye population will continue to be monitored at regular intervals in the future. 

Northern pike are also an important game fish in Big Sandy Lake. The gillnet catch rate for northern pike is about average for this type of lake at 4.6 per net and has ranged between 4.0 and 5.9 per net since 1975. The northern pike were also small, averaging just 17.8 inches, but ranging up to 26 inches in the survey gill nets. Despite the presence of a desirable yellow perch and tulibee population northern pike are small and seem to grow slow. Habitat segregation may explain some of this incongruity for example; yellow perch were mostly captured in the main basin, whereas northern pike were captured more often in the shallower, more vegetated areas of the lake. Angler harvest may also be a factor contributing to the lack of large pike. 

The abundance of yellow perch was about average for this type of lake and has fluctuated over time. The average size of perch was 8.0 inches and 30% were 9 inches or longer with some individuals reaching nearly 13.0 inches. 

The black crappie catch was up slightly from historical numbers and ranged in size from 7 to12 inches in length and averaged about 9 inches. The 2002 year class of crappies is strong and now are about 8 inches long. Bluegill numbers also showed an increase in 2005 with a strong 1999 year class and reasonable recruitment from the 2000, 2001 and 2002 year classes. Although not particularly numerous the average size was good with a mean of 7.2 inches and 33% of the sample over 8 inches in length. 

The tulibee population experienced summer kill in the mid 1980's but has since rebounded to normal levels. Tulibee were caught at a rate of 9.8 per net in 2005 with an average size of 13.8 inches with some fish reaching nearly 20 inches. Tulibee are a cold-water fish and provide quality forage for walleye and northern pike. They have a low tolerance for warm water and are therefore are usually limited to the confines of Bill Horn Bay during the summer months. 

Anglers are encouraged to release large northern pike and walleye and also to protect habitat by practicing responsible shoreline management techniques.

 



                         
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