The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 21, 2013

Exotic species mussel in on Clear Lake

By John Cross jcross@mankatofreepress.com
The Mankato Free Press

---- — Some very large muskies call northern Iowa’s Clear Lake home, so it’s always possible that finned lightning might strike an unsuspecting angler.

But since most anglers there are targeting walleyes or yellow bass with light line and no leaders, those encounters usually are brief, ending with bite-offs when the sharp-toothed predators inhale a bait.

But lightning like that doesn’t strike very often, so after about the third or fourth time I and my brothers, Dan and Rick, lost tackle while fishing there last week, we began to wonder what exactly was going on.

That question was answered when I reeled in one time to check my bait.

Dangling from the hook was a cluster of fingernail-sized zebra mussels I somehow had hooked and dislodged from the submerged rock pile we were fishing.

Closer inspection revealed the cluster of a half-dozen adult zebra mussels tightly bound together had razor-sharp edges.

Rather than bite-offs, the Lindy-style sinkers we were using would lodge in the zebra mussel-encrusted rocks where the tight line was easily cut by the sharp edges.

The popular boating and fishing destination seven miles west of Mason City was discovered to have an infestation of zebra mussels eight years ago.

We have fished the lake regularly since then and except for the colonies of zebra mussels visible on dock pilings, boat lifts, the artificial weed bed filaments constructed of heavy monofilament we would occasionally snag, we hadn’t noticed much of an impact.

Fishing remained — and remains — pretty good.

But evidently, the zebra mussels now have reached sufficient numbers now to cover the rock piles we fished, easily slicing through any monofilament dragged across them.

In an effort to stem the further spread of zebra mussels, which also have been detected in the Iowa Great Lakes, laws that went into effect on July 1, 2013, that largely mirror Minnesota’s efforts to slow the spread of aquatic invasive species — the draining of live wells, removing drain plugs, and bait disposal.

A pessimistic view of such efforts is that the battle already is lost.

A more optimistic take is that such measures can slow the spread of them, perhaps until some kind of effective control/eradication techniques are devised.

Two things are certain: The battle won’t end any time soon and any success in stemming the tide will continue to depend on the diligence of boaters and anglers to do their part.

To that effect, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has ramped up education and enforcement efforts over the last two years.

By now, we all ought to know to remove the drain-plug, drain live wells, not to transport minnows in lake water and to clean off any clinging vegetation from boat, motor and trailer.

Conservation officers no longer offer any forgiveness to those who don’t. Careless or forgetful boaters can be assured of receiving citations.

Boaters will have additional reminders to practice due diligence in coming weeks when the DNR installs “clean-and-drain” areas at public lake access sites around the state.

The areas will be convenient locations at access sites where boaters will be able to pull off and away from from other traffic to clean and drain their boats.

The plan is to have them in place at more than 200 public access sites around the state.

Craig Beckman, DN Regional Parks and Trails Supervisor at New Ulm, said area boaters can expect to see the areas on several local lakes in the coming weeks.

“We’re in the process of evaluating what kind of lakes they will be installed at,” he said. “It will be based on lakes with current invasive infestations and the amount of boat traffic.”

Boaters can expect to find them on the most popular area lakes, like Madison and Washington.

Besides an area apart from access traffic, the clean-and-drain areas will include compost bins in which anglers will be able to discard unwanted minnows, leeches and other baits, along with any vegetation they remove from their boats.

Historically, public lake access sites have not been equipped with receptacles since people other than boaters frequently are inclined use them as personal trash disposal facilities, he said.

The bottom line is that while reversing or halting the spread of aquatic invasive species may not be possible, conscientious efforts by boaters can at least slow it down.

And perhaps buy some time until permanent solutions are found.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.