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Twin Lakes hit hard by winterkill

Dead carp lay on the shores of Twin Lakes south of Woonsocket earlier this month. A winterkill in the shallow lake was the cause of death. (Marcus Traxler/Republic) 1 / 2
Dead fish pile up along the shores of Twin Lakes in southern Sanborn County earlier this month. (Marcus Traxler/Republic)2 / 2

WOONSOCKET — Smelly, dead fish were packed nearly six feet wide for nearly a mile. “So thick you could have scooped them up with a shovel,” said Allan Tiede, owner of Twin Lakes Resort, found on the Sanborn-Jerauld county line about nine miles southwest of Woonsocket.

0 Talk about it

As a long winter ended, dead fi sh came to the surface along the banks of the lake, rotting away as the ice thawed. The stench beside the lake has become manageable but still apparent. “It was just crazy,” Tiede said. “I just thought it was a dead lake. I didn’t know if anything was going to survive that.” A winterkill — or the death of the majority of fish in a lake — at Twin Lakes is nothing new.

Evan Meyer, a South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks conservation officer based in Howard, said it’s happened at least three times in the last seven years.

But locals have expressed concern about future winterkills at the lake and what they mean for the fishing at the site.

For now, the GF&P plans to continue to stock the lake as it has for decades, even though the lake’s shallow water and mucky bottom make it difficult to gain any consistent fishing opportunities from year to year, Meyer said. The GF&P has already stocked the lake with northerns and crappies this year. Meyer said more work to restock the lake will take place during the early summer months, include walleye, perch and northern pike.

Winterkill occurs when fish are suffocated from a lack of oxygen after a long, cold winter. Ice on the surface of the lake keeps light from reaching the lake bottom, which doesn’t allow aquatic plants to produce any oxygen, causing the plants to die. Most of the deaths impacted the invasive carp and northern pike.

Some locals blame the capping of two wells — which fed the lake until 1988 — a s the cause of the more frequent winter kills. The capping of the wells was a part of statewide law to close uncontrolled wells.

But Meyer said GF&P records indicate winterkills were just as frequent when those wells were fl owing.

“It looks like it’s something that has been going on for as long as the GF&P has been keeping records,” he said.

Twin Lakes is a prototypical lake for winterkill, Meyer said, because it is shallow and is laden with nutrients in the water. The lake has an average depth of six feet and its deepest point is 12.5 feet, according to a GF&P survey in 2011.

Meyer acknowledged that GF&P was taking quite the beating when it came to public opinion about the lake, especially on Facebook, where various theories emerged regarding the winterkill problem.

“I know it was a pretty hot topic,” Meyer said. “I think there’s some chances to educate the public on the status of the lake. A lot of people beat up the GF&P over this, and there’s sometimes a difference between what people think and what’s actually happening.”

Woonsocket Mayor Lindy Peterson, a regular fisherman, says there is concern about the lake. He said aside from the James River, it’s the only quality lake nearby for fishing.

“I used to be able to go out there, catch my four walleyes in an hour and go back home,” Peterson said. “That was quite a while ago.”

Permanent options such as aeration or dredging are much more expensive and might not be feasible, Peterson said.

“Unless there’s some sort of aeration or way to keep air moving on those lakes, and we get a cold winter, you just know it’s just going to happen,” he said.

“It’s one of those lakes that will consistently be a challenge,” Meyer said.

Tiede, who took over ownership of the campgrounds and cabins April 1 after managing the site for the last two years, said he’s concerned about water quality because he doesn’t know where all of the carcasses of the dead fish went.

“Did they sink to the bottom?” Tiede said. “Did something come get them? Did they just decompose there? You just don’t really know.”

He believes the lake will be negatively affected by the winterkill.

“For some folks, they won’t mind,” Tiede said. “But for a lot of people coming here, they’ll think twice. It’s not going to help us.”