As we get closer to winter it is time to update folks on some of the DNR fisheries office activities on Pokegama Lake. A few items people are already familiar with are the smelt die off that occurred in early July and floating vegetation that floated onto shorelines in the Sherry’s Arm area. Other notables are continued walleye and muskellunge stocking.

The smelt die-off peaked in early July, while the state was shut down for three weeks. It was unfortunate that we were not able to get out on the lake during the shutdown and measure water temperatures or dissolved oxygen levels and collect fresh smelt for examination and testing. However, Itasca County SWCD was collecting data during this time and it does not appear that water temperatures or dissolved oxygen levels were contributing factors. If water temperature or dissolved oxygen were low other coolwater species such as whitefish, tullibee and lake trout would also have been affected. Although small numbers of other species were also noted floating during this time, smelt were the main species observed. Some residents saved some smelt which were sent to our pathology lab, but the results came back inconclusive.

Introduced species such as smelt often go through wide population fluctuations starting out at low numbers, increasing to a high abundance, declining and eventually stabilizing at a moderate population level. Smelt populations in our special assessment netting have varied from 17.2 to 99.0/net from 2000 to 2010. A smelt assessment conducted this October confirmed the smelt die off sampling Fisheries Update only 5 smelt for a catch rate of 0.4/net. We expect the smelt population to increase in the next couple years and possibly level off to more moderate levels. We plan to monitor the smelt run in the spring and may do another netting assessment next fall to track the population.

We are fortunate that Pokegama Lake has a healthy fishery and an abundance of other prey species such as yellow perch to continue to support walleye, northern pike and other species that commonly preyed on smelt. In the meantime, fishing for these species could be good over the next year as they have to spend more time searching for prey.

Residents in Sherry’s Arm called to ask about mats of vegetation floating up on their shorelines this year. Turns out foresters at Blandin Paper were removing a beaver dam on Pokegama Creek and when the dam was removed the rushing water dislodged floating vegetation, primarily wild rice, at the mouth of the creek. Two conservation officers and a forester with Blandin paper spent a couple days removing the floating vegetation from docks and boat lifts.

Walleye are stocked annually and stocking for this year has been completed with 1,978 pounds of fingerlings, a total of about 47,000 fish, stocked at several accesses over the last couple weeks. Walleye in Pokegama Lake grow fast and these fish should reach 16 inches in three more years. Muskellunge stocking started in 2008 and will continue in even years until 2016. In 2016, we will conduct a special assessment to determine the extent of natural reproduction and whether the population is self sustaining or continued stocking is necessary. Muskellunge are stocked at a lower rate than walleye and 1,978 fish are stocked each time with the next stocking in 2012. Surplus lake trout from the state hatchery system are stocked occasionally and in early November, Pokegama Lake received 95 fish ranging from 1 to 3 pounds.

If you have any questions about the fish management program on Pokegama Lake, please feel free to contact the Area Fisheries Office or call (218) 327-4430.  Jeff Tillma, MN DNR Fisheries