By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
WATERVILLE — Although water levels on drought-wracked southern Minnesota lakes are well below normal, lack of snow cover this winter is giving a break to a fish species decimated by die-offs last summer.
State officials at the Waterville Area Fisheries office said the extreme heat of 2012 caused massive kills of northern pike, but this winter’s dearth of snow has allowed sunlight to penetrate ice.
That enables aquatic plants to grow, which improves dissolved-oxygen levels for the fish.
However, Assistant Fisheries Supervisor Scott Mackenthun said another hot summer could again ravage the susceptible northerns.
He said pike are a cool water fish that were bedeviled by lake levels 12-18 inches below normal.
“We don’t know what percentage of the pike population got hit because we rely on anecdotal information.”
He said although another hot summer would take further toll on northerns, the fish are hardy rebounders.
“Generally, pike are resilient; their populations return.”
He said fisheries personnel also restock lakes to boost pike populations.
Wildlife officials said the southern part of the state will need late-winter snowfalls and early spring and summer rains to return lakes to normal levels.