The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 6, 2012

Cross: More and more anglers taking advantage of the digital era

By John Cross
Free Press Staff Writer

— Serious and even not-so-serious anglers hang all sorts of sophisticated electronics from their boat, all to tip the odds in their favor to catch a few fish.

But nowadays, among the most important electronic fishing tools for Minnesota anglers might just be the home computer.

For decades, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Division of Fisheries has conducted periodic fish population surveys on most of the state’s fishing lakes.

 “Minnesota’s lake history data base is second to none in the country,” said TJ DeBates, the supervisor at the DNR’s Waterville Fish Hatchery. “The DNR has been gathering lake data for decades.”

That data, along with stocking records, lake maps and other lake information compiled over decades can be found in the LakeFinder section on the DNR’s Web site at

The information makes fascinating reading and gives anglers an idea of what to expect when they hit a particular body of water for the first time.

In some cases, however, the LakeFinder information listed for a lake — population assessments, stocking records — are too old to accurately reflect current conditions.

“Most lakes are surveyed every five years or so, certain core management lakes more frequently,” he said. Typically, it has taken as long as 1 1/2 years for lake survey information to be posted for a given body of water.

That lag time should shrink dramatically since DNR Fisheries personnel now carry electronic tablets into the field where data can be directly entered into data base templates.

In the past, catch and size rates of the various species captured in survey nets were recorded the old fashioned way — with pencil and paper — while on the water.

 That data then was compiled and entered during the winter months, DeBates explained.

After being analyzed by area biologists, it would move down the line to the regional and finally to a state level, before manually being entered into the LakeFinder.

Utilizing the tablets has streamlined the operation, allowing the data to be accessed and reviewed more quickly.

Following review of lake survey data on area and regional levels, it then becomes just a matter of someone in St. Paul flipping a switch to update a particular survey.

“It will be more real time,” he  said. “Where it used to take 1 1/2 years to get the latest information up on Lake Finder, it now will happen much more quickly.”

The following is a list of area lakes that had recent fish population estimates or full surveys (in-depth assessments) conducted:  2010: Madison, George, Albert Lea, Dora, Rice, Cody, Phelps, St. Olaf, Clear, Elysian; 2011: Crystal, Duck, Fountain, Fox, Frances, Greenleaf.

DeBates said LakeFinder data from those most recent surveys should be online and available for viewing sometime this week.

Just in time for the opener.

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