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Fish are explorers, navigators of the underwater world

Schools of fish that continually move keep angling interesting. Careful consideration of seasonal period, water temperature, current, forage availability and light intensity all impact fish movement. Yet sometimes we simply don't understand why fish move. It's the "here today, gone tomorrow" syndrome.

Last week a good friend, Jeremy Anderson of Jone's Guide Service, landed a traveling largemouth. The fish wasn't overly large, 12-inches or so, which he caught on Deer Lake in Nevis. However, the fish had a Department of Natural Resources tag on it, which is unique because the bass was originally tagged in Lake Belle Taine and at some point navigated the Belle Taine river channel, swam through Shallow Lake, and found the narrow entryway into Deer Lake. An exploratory fish like that might be deemed the Christopher Columbus of bass.

Edie Everts of the Department of Natural Resources Fisheries office here in Park Rapids says that fish do move up and down lake chains, but it's difficult to accurately determine what species and population percentages move regularly because those fish would have to be tagged, caught and reported.

In 2007 the DNR tagged 835 largemouth and 106 smallmouth in Lake Belle Taine to assess the bass population on the lake. A bass slot limit on the lake is under consideration by the DNR, but the public is invited to voice their opinion on the proposal. The slot would require anglers to release all largemouth and smallmouth bass between 12 and 20 inches, with one bass allowed per angler over 20 inches. Public meetings will be held sometime this fall for anglers to voice their opinions.

Other species of fish besides bass migrate between bodies of water. When walleye were tagged on Big Sand years ago, a few reports came of tagged walleye caught on Lake Belle Taine. Traveling through six lakes and the winding Little Sand river, these fish swam quite some distance.

The Fisheries' Everts says that it's common for fish to migrate and that open channels between lakes allows the natural movements of the fish. Manmade dams, however, do not permit the fish to move freely. "During high-water years, fish often move downstream over dams, which can hurt fish populations in lakes above the structures", notes Everts.

Another species affected by the development of dams are mussels. "Mussels can easily travel downstream using water currents, but cannot travel upstream without a host. If fish can't swim upstream because of a dam, mussels can't make it there either", says Everts.

On Lake of the Woods, some extensive studies were conducted examining a variety of fish species and their movements. Of notable interest, around 5,000 northern pike were tagged over the course of three springs in the mid 1990's. Dennis Topp, Baudette Area Fisheries assistant supervisor, says that many of the tagged fish captured during the spring spawning runs near Warroad were caught by DNR annually in the same area, meaning the pike returned to the same spawning grounds year after year.

Topp says that although most of those tagged fish have either been harvested by anglers or simply died of old age, the ones that remain are big fish, over 40-inches and reports of tagged northern pike are still periodically returned to the DNR. Some tag numbers have even been reported by multiple anglers from a single fish caught more than once on the same day.