How many boaters and anglers are actually using our local lakes? The DNR Hinckley Area Fisheries Office set out to find the answer to that question this past summer, in order to make plans for the future.
In their recently released “Field Notes,” DNR Fisheries Specialist Heath Weaver noted how local DNR staff used their down time in 2020 to conduct a survey of the 24 most popular lakes in the area, and compare them to a similar survey completed in the mid-1980s.
“With early record fishing license sales and many folks with more time to spend outdoors, we were interested to find what the levels of lake use would be,” Weaver said.
Weaver said that they created a route from access points on the chosen lakes, and recorded the number of vehicles with trailers, other vehicles, swimmers, shore-anglers and more. Surveyors visited those lakes on 46 weekdays and 18 weekend days between fishing opener and the end of August.
In Pine County, the survey covered Bass, Big Pine, Grindstone, Island, Sand, Sturgeon and Upper Pine lakes.
In Kanabec County, the survey covered Ann, Eleven and Knife lakes.
In Isanti County, the survey covered Green Lake.
In Chisago County, the survey covered Chisago/South Lindstrom, Comfort, East Rush, West Rush, Goose, Green, North Center and South Center lakes.
DNR staff tracked the average vehicle count for each lake, then examined how those vehicle counts compared when adjusted for lake size.
Vehicle county varies
The average vehicle count chart shows that Chisago/South Lindstrom Lake had the highest average vehicle count, with around 25 per weekend day and nearly 15 every weekday.
However, when the vehicle counts were adjusted for lake size, Comfort, Green and South Center lakes – all in Chisago County – rose to most-used status.
In Kanabec County, Knife Lake was easily the most visited lake, with a large leap in use during weekends.
In Pine County, Cross Lake and Pokegama Lakes appeared to have the most visitors. Pokegama Lake had a slightly higher count than Cross Lake, with around 20 vehicles per weekend day and 10 every weekday.
Weaver said that counts appeared surprisingly consistent especially on weekdays from the end of June through the end of August.
“While this survey provides insights into how much use lakes receive, it does not tell us everything,” Weaver wrote. “For example, we had no way of knowing for sure how many boats on a lake were fishing parties or other recreational users. We also had no way of counting how many lakeshore residents were out boating. And of course, we don’t know how well the fishing was going.”
He said that they intend to do further surveys which would include angler interviews, and they have tentative plans to carry out such a survey next year on Knife Lake and Grindstone Lake.