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Missy Lindow of Nevis strains to hold up a beautiful autumn northern pike. Predator fish like pike progressively chase larger minnows as the open water season progresses due to natural growth of the forage. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

Late hatch fingerlings' winter survival rate good

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outdoors Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Though the afternoon ambient temperatures have yet to relent, the calendar says it's autumn.

Each year as the season transitions from summer to fall, the lakes and underwater inhabitants do too.

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One of those annual transformations deals with the size of fish. No, not the trophy walleyes, behemoth bass or hefty northern pike and muskie that offer so much entertainment when pulling against a properly adjusted drag; this has to do with small fish.

Do keep in mind, small fish are essential to the survival and growth of large fish. Not to mention, small gamefish are the future year classes of big fish - so long as the lakes remain healthy and predation is at an appropriate level (which includes predation from anglers.)

Over the past several days, as temperatures warmed shallow water areas, observers could see small bass, shiners, perch and a variety of other species enjoying the unseasonably warm weather as much as the land-lubbers.

Some of those young of the year fish (meaning they hatched this past season) won't survive until next spring while others will.

It's important to understand that not all fish, even of the same species, spawn at precisely the same time.

Smallmouth bass, for instance, sometimes spawn multiple times throughout the open-water season. Though the majority of the population reproduces en-mass, some don't follow the rules ­- similar to certain anglers!

Fish that hatch later in the season are typically more susceptible to natural predation simply due to their smaller size. Whereas a fish fry can easily fall victim to a prolific perch, rock bass or even crayfish, a fingerling sized fish often evades those obstacles. Yearling fish are better off yet.

Stable spring weather provides prime spawning conditions for many fish and forage species. In the early stages of development, the gamefish species experience a high mortality rate due to predation from both fish and aquatic animals.

Minnows remain acceptable prey for larger fish throughout the year and sometimes for years to come since their maximum growth capacity is limited.

As the season has progressed this year, just like every year, each variety of minnow becomes larger in physical size. Anglers looking to catch fish like northern pike, bass, walleye and muskie in the fall are generally better off purchasing larger strains of minnows from the bait shop to emulate the current conditions in our lakes.

The consistent early season weather this year is showing its impact on gamefish too.

The Park Rapids Area Fisheries (DNR) has recently been electro-fishing to survey young-of-the-year walleye. According to Doug Kingsley, area fisheries supervisor, "We've only completed three lakes (Big Sand, Kabekona, Potato), but have seen phenomenal results of our fall electro-fishing to sample young-of-the year walleye.

"Magnitudes higher than anything previous at all three of those lakes, which suggests this was an excellent year for natural reproduction," he said. "The fingerlings appear to be large enough that they should have good survival. It will be interesting to see what this year class will look like in future sampling."

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