GF&P hits Mitchell lake Fishing for information
A catfish slipped through B.J. Schall's hands and landed in a small tank with a splash, spraying water across the deck of the boat.
But in a moment, the wriggling fish was snatched up again and kept under control just long enough to be measured and weighed Wednesday morning before getting tossed back into the lake. Schall and three others -- Cody Chamblin, Trevor Bultje and Jason Stahl -- all worked from the small, metal boat as they finished an annual survey of Lake Mitchell's fish population for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department's Wildlife Division
"We're just sampling the fish population, essentially," said Stahl, a biologist. "We're just seeing what's in the lake."
As the four men moved between one of the six trap nets left overnight in Lake Mitchell, they measured, weighed and took scale samples, which can be used to determine age, from fish caught in the nets. It was the second day of the survey, as the men had already surveyed trap nets and gill nets, which work by trapping fish by their gills, in other locations on Tuesday.
Among the notable finds from this year's survey were an unusually large number of black crappies -- so many they stopped counting -- and many larger-than-normal catfish, the heaviest of which weighed in at more than 27 pounds, according to Stahl.
"There are a lot of nice catfish in this lake," Stahl said. "Way more catfish than we normally get in our other lakes."
A number of flathead catfish, a specific species of catfish only recently introduced to Lake Mitchell, were also found. Stahl said the species is becoming more common after it was inadvertently introduced to the lake, likely by an angler who caught one nearby and released it.
"We don't like to see species introduced like that," Stahl said.
In South Dakota, it's illegal to introduce any fish into public waters without the express permission of GF&P.
Todd St. Sauver, a regional fisheries manager for GF&P, is responsible for managing at least 55 bodies of water, including Lake Mitchell, totaling more than 100,000 acres in southeast South Dakota.
Data collected during the survey at Lake Mitchell, along with similar surveys conducted at other lakes across the state, is vital to GF&P, St. Sauver said.
"It's the only information we have to make our management decisions," St. Sauver said in a telephone interview Wednesday with The Daily Republic.
Once all the data from this year's surveys is collected this summer, GF&P will analyze it and release a report this winter, St. Sauver said.
The annual survey has been ongoing for many years, St. Sauver said, and allows GF&P to observe long-term trends in the state's fish population.
Lake Mitchell's fish population has generally been consistent from year to year, St. Sauver said.
The only significant trend has been a drop in the number of crappies in the lake since the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a vast amount of vegetation was removed, St. Sauver said.
"It hasn't really ever gotten to the point where you can't go out there and catch a fish," he said.
St. Sauver said GF&P does not plan to stock walleye in Lake Mitchell this year because long-term data shows the agency's stocking efforts have had little effect on the population. That could change based on the results of this recent survey, he said.
"I know fishing doesn't always meet everybody's expectations all the time, but it could be worse." he said. "There are really good opportunities for people who want to fish catfish."