Creel surveys

What is a creel survey?

As fisheries managers we often rely on several tools to gather information on our fisheries. One of these tools is a creel, or angler survey. What a creel survey amounts to is having an individual interview anglers, measure fish, keep track of hours fished, count boats, fish houses, recreational craft, etc. When the data is analyzed we can get information about the effort, harvest, size distribution of several important species of fish. We can also get an idea of fishing quality and recreational pressure a lake has been subject to. Needless to say the creel survey is a valuable tool in the fisheries managers tool box. Below are links to several creel surveys. Please feel free to contact us with your questions.

The following are PDF files.

Clearwater Lake Winter fishing

As the ice fishing season approaches, anglers may be interested in the results of the last angler survey on Clearwater Lake. The Sauk Rapids DNR Fisheries office interviewed 614 anglers and measured their catch from December 2004 to March 2005. The purpose of the survey was to estimate the number and size of gamefish caught, and determine if any changes need to be made to the current management of the lake.

Clearwater Lake receives moderate angling pressure. In the winter of 2004-05, an estimated 27,000 angler hours, or nine hours per acre we expended angling on the lake. By comparison, a similar survey on Buffalo Lake in Wright County in 2003 showed twice as much use. To be fair, the winter fishing season of 2004-05 started slowly due to warm temperatures. Good ice for angling wasn't available until December 18, 2004, about two weeks later than normal.

Clearwater Lake can be described as having a east and west basin. The west basin includes Bungalow Island and is accessible by way of two public accesses. The east basin does not have a public access, although some anglers were observed driving onto the lake by way of Lathrop Avenue. The West basin of the lake received more than twice the pressure of the East basin, due to better access.

About half of all anglers were seeking crappies and about one-third were targeting sunfish. Twenty percent of anglers sought to catch walleye and northern pike. We estimated that more than 10,000 sunfish were harvested, 4,300 black crappie, 700 northern pike (angling and spearing), and 500 walleye. Harvested sunfish averaged 6.9 inches and 0.3 lbs, and crappies averaged 10.2 inches and 0.6 pounds.

The average northern pike harvested by angling was 24.4 inches and 3.4 pounds; northerns harvested by spearing averaged 25 inches and 3.6 pounds. Harvested walleye averaged 13.1 inches and 0.8 pounds. Many smaller walleye were observed in the creel as a result of recent successful walleye fry stockings.

We would like to thank all of the anglers who participated in the survey.  If you have questions, please call the Sauk Rapids office at 320-223-7867.

The Clearwater Lake Spear Fishery

Clearwater Lake is the largest (3,182 acres), most heavily used lake in the Sauk Rapids Area and has the highest management priority. Clearwater is often touted by the media as one of the top ten bass lakes in Minnesota. Recent surveys have shown changes in the fishery and this article compares winter northern pike angling and spearing.

Creel surveys were conducted during the winters of 1989-90 and 2004-05. One important consideration is that the winter angling and spearing in 2004 began about December 18 due to mild weather, while the 1989 season commenced by December 1. So about 1/4 of the spearing season (December 1 - mid February) had elapsed in 2004 before ice conditions were good enough to get on the lake.

In 2004, spearing pressure was only 1/3 of what it was in 1989, 2,699 hours versus 8,973 hours. Even though the amount of time available was less in 2004, it appears that spearing pressure declined between these two survey years. Similarly, spearers surveyed acknowledged much the same thing.

The number of northern pike harvested by spearers was only 1/3 of what it was in 1989, only 576 northern pike in 2004-05 versus 1,870 in 1989-90; and harvest rates were nearly identical between years. Anglers targeting northern pike harvested them at a rate of 0.076 fish per hour. Spearers harvested northern pike at a rate of 0.23 fish hour. DNR survey gill net catches have remained high, about 12 per gill net for Clearwater Lake.

Interestingly, the mean weight of northern pike taken by anglers and spearers increased. The mean weight of fish taken by both groups was about 3.5 pounds, whereas in 1989 the mean weight of fish was less than three pounds (2.4 lb for angler harvested northern pike and 2.9 lb for northerns harvested by spearers). It's possible that anglers and spearers were quite selective in their harvest, taking above average-sized fish.

We were surprised that northern pike were such a small component of the winter fishery on Clearwater Lake in 2004-05. About 20 percent of anglers were seeking northern pike, with the same percentage seeking walleye. Overall, the number of black crappies in the creel declined since 1989 while the number of sunfish and walleye increased. The largemouth bass population has remained strong. It seems likely that these changes are because of improvements in water quality (favors sunfish) and a successful walleye fry stocking program.

It's rare that we have such survey information on the same lake and it may be a stretch to make inferences when the surveys were conducted 15 years apart. However, changes in the Clearwater Lake fishery appear to correlate with standard gill and trap net catches.

Updated February 18, 2011