This is an article submitted by Dave Weitzel, DNR Grand Rapids Area Fisheries Manager to the Sand Paper sponsored by the Sand Lake Property Owners Association:

Sand Lake Fishery Update…. Fall 2018 By Dave Weitzel, MN DNR Grand Rapids Area Fisheries Supervisor.
It was an exciting year for fisheries management on Sand Lake, and two major initiatives were completed in 2018. First, representatives from the Sand Lake Property Owners Association (SLPOA) participated in the revision of Fisheries Lake Management Plan (LMP) for Sand Lake in January of 2018. This plan summarized past information, identified factors that may limit fisheries performance, established realistic expectations, and laid out a plan of management actions to help reach those expectations. The 2018 LMP is available upon request by contacting the Grand Rapids Area Fisheries Office at 218-328-8836 or grandrapids.fisheries.state.mn.us. Walleye remained a primary management species and the new plan included a robust stocking strategy. Past surveys have shown that stocked fry contribute to the Walleye population, but stocking strategies often included non-stocked years to evaluate natural reproduction. The new plan acknowledges that natural reproduction occasionally contributes to strong year classes but may be too infrequent to maximize the full potential of the Walleye fishery. With that in mind, a new stocking plan was developed. This plan includes annual stocking of fry at a rate that is intended to compliment natural reproduction, without risk of over loading the system with more young fish than can be supported. A lake can only produce so many young fish in a given year. Stocking above this “carrying capacity” will not increase fish numbers and may even result in a poorer year class. The stocking rate was based on Minnesota DNR stocking guidelines for annual fry stocking and is expected to benefit the Walleye population by producing more consistent year classes. Annual fry stocking was preferred by SPLOA members because it increased the odds of fry being stocked in years with good conditions for survival. This strategy will be evaluated with fish netting surveys in 2021 and 2023.
Bluegill and Black Crappie are also considered primary management species in Sand Lake because they are well suited for the lake and angler interest is high. Both species produce fish of high size quality. Management for these species will continue to focus on monitoring and data collection, including special spring sampling in 2023. Both species are susceptible to angler over harvest, which can negatively impact size quality. The outreach section of the lake management plan encourages anglers to release Bluegill exceeding 8 inches and to voluntarily limit their crappie harvest. Crappie mortality may be especially high when fish are caught from depth greater than 25 feet. Concerned anglers should avoid catching too many crappie from deep water. A good policy is to stop fishing once you have enough for a meal because catch and release fishing from deep water will likely result in high release mortality. Quality Bluegill populations are especially vulnerable to overharvest, and Sand Lake remains a candidate for a reduced bag limit. Although biologically appropriate, a regulation change would only be considered if strong public support was evident, however. A regulation change was proposed in 2011, but there was not enough support to proceed with a regulation change at the time.
The second big initiative was the expansion of the Bird’s Eye Lake Aquatic Management Area (AMA). DNR, in partnership with the SLPOA, was able to finalize the protection of a large tract of land between Sand and Bird’s Eye Lake, resulting in a large addition to AMA. The 2018 acquisition protects approximately 3,300 feet of shoreline on Sand Lake. The new acquisition, along with an existing US Forest Service parcel, also results in 100% public ownership and full shoreline protection of Bird’s Eye Lake! The AMA provides recreational opportunities that enhance the Sand Lake area. DNR fisheries crews recently partnered with DNR land surveyors to survey and sign the AMA. The Bird’s Eye AMA is a general use AMA and allows angling, non-motorized travel, wildlife observation, hunting, and trapping. Several uses are not allowed including trap or target shooting, motorized travel, building fires, or overnight camping. Please visit us online at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/amas/index.html for more information about Aquatic Management Areas and allowed or restricted uses. The SLPOA has been very supportive of the AMA and was instrumental in getting County approval for the recent acquisition. In the near future, DNR will develop a management guidance document for the AMA and encourages SLPOA participation in the planning process. Future plans will address removal of old buildings and debris. It is early in the planning process, but volunteer opportunities to help clean up and maintain the AMA are likely to arise. To learn more about fisheries management in the Grand Rapids Area, contact us at 218-328-8835 or email us at… [email protected]
David Weitzel DNR Grand Rapids Area Fisheries Supervisor