Anglers wait patiently for fishing opener

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 22, 2002

No matter where you go in the country, if there's a body of water, there's a loyal following of people who love to fish.

Of course, with all the news recently about how polluted Mower County's waterways are, you may be wary about fishing in them.

While you may not want to troll the county's waters for culinary delights, kids and people who just want to fish for fun will find Mower County an excellent place to cast a lure.

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"We have two bodies of water in town that are considered fisheries by the (Department of Natural Resources)," Don Hanson, owner of White Whale Fishing and Archery in Austin says. "The East Side Lake and the Cedar River both have … pockets of fish in them. Below the dam of the East Side Lake is a good place to take kids because there is enough variety of … fish to keep kids interested. There are pan fish, rough fish, hand-sized crappies and once in awhile, there's a nice-sized largemouth bass. The Turtle Creek springs are good, but you're limited to northern pike there."

Additionally, Steve Klotz, an assistant area manager of the DNR, says fish also are stocked in the Austin Mill Pond and the Ramsey Mill Pond.

Each winter, Klotz says the DNR stocks northern pike in the river and the two mill ponds. In the summer, channel catfish are stocked. This winter, he said, nearly 360 northern fish were added and last summer "1,100 decent-sized catfish were put in."

The DNR, Klotz added, also stocks small-mouthed bass some years, but has no plans to do so this year because "that allows us to go in and look for signs of reproduction. When we put them in, they're usually small, so it's hard to tell there's any natural reproduction."

Northern pike and catfish are put into these bodies of water because, Klotz explains, "those are fish a warm-water river would be suitable for. We don't stock trout because the water quality is not suitable for them."

According to Hanson, anglers also can find a few largemouth bass, pan fish, rough fish and crappie fish.

"There is a variety of seven to eight fish that people like to fish for, if they choose to fish here. The East Side Lake has some largemouth bass that range in size from 1 to 11 pounds. There's the rare northern pike that weights up to 20 pounds. You can find the rare, odd bass that will go 5 pounds."

Hanson says the waterways also have some rock bass, blue gills and red horse suckers, which are considered "periphery fish that some kids like to fish for."

Though many of the fish may be large, there are few of them to begin with. "There used to be coontails, lily pads and bulrushes in these waters, but all the herbicides have killed those off so it's ruined the habitat for fish like the pan fish and the bass," Hanson says.

He says, "In the spring, usually the game fish from the lower part of the river in Iowa move up here for spawning grounds, so usually there are more fish here in the spring. More game fish, anyway."

However, by the end of the summer "the fish are fairly sparse" because so many people do take their trophies home, Hanson says.

"Since our fish are so limited in number, it's important that people recycle the fish by catch and release. But, if 90 percent of the people who fish here in Mower County let their fish go, and the other 10 percent keeps theirs, we still lose that resource," Hanson says.

For the serious angler, Hanson says "Mower County is more of a departure point, not a destination. Albert Lea has probably the best and closest place for fishing. They have good crappie fish over there, though that can be cyclical. They'll have two or three years of small crappies in between years of large fish."

In general, though, Klotz says "there's pretty good fishing to be had in Mower County. It could improve a lot, but the water quality limits how good the fishing is. If the water quality improved, it could get better. If it doesn't, it could go the other way."

Hanson agrees. "Our main problem is the water quality. Ramsey pool above Ramsey Dam used to have 17 feet of water in it. Now, it just has two and a half feet of silt."

Amanda L. Rohde can be reached at 434-2214 or by e-mail at