Helping Big Kandi Put Out Big Perch

Volunteers are anchoring cedar trees at locations in Big Kandiyohi Lake to provide spawning habitat for perch. Mitch Mosul Mick Squibb, Olof Larson and Devin Lund are among the volunteers.

BIG KANDI – Jumbo perch are so fun to catch, and make such a great meal, that many anglers will happily travel hundreds of miles to Lake Winnibigoshish, Lake of the Woods or even Devils Lake, N.D., to target them.

The trip to find them may soon be getting a lot shorter.

A project is now underway on Big Kandiyohi Lake that aims to take advantage of the lake’s natural ability to grow big perch.

Volunteers with the Big Kandi Lake Association are in the process of anchoring cedar trees at four and possibly more locations in the 2,682 acre lake near Lake Lillian in Kandiyohi County. Steel cable and duckbill anchors buried in the lake sediment will hold the X-shaped clumps of cedars in four feet of water within 100 feet of the shoreline once the ice goes out.

The submerged trees will provide the structure yellow perch use to hold their eggs. It should greatly improve the species ability to naturally reproduce in the lake, according to Dave Coahran, fisheries supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Spicer.

Big Kandi is a shallow and fertile lake, and provides what it takes for perch to grow, grow and grow into the 10-inch size that warrants the moniker of “jumbo.” But as for now, the lake just does not consistently hatch a big class of perch year-to-year, he explained.

Tim Johnson augers a hole to anchor cedar trees.

Lake association members are not looking to make Big Kandi the next big destination for jumbo perch. The lake already sees lots of fishing pressure, in good part because many know of its ability to produce jumbo perch.

Jerry Neubauer, one of the organizers for the project, said their goal is simply to help improve the fishing for everyone, given that the lake already receives lots of pressure.

The lake association volunteers are providing the labor and equipment needed for the project. They were able to obtain $4,000 in grant funds with help from Kandiyohi County and the Kandiyohi County Soil and Water Conservation District. It helped pay for the materials needed, including steel cable and anchors. The DNR is providing technical assistance, and will do follow up work to monitor how the project is working.

This is a test project, but not the first. The State of Wisconsin has been creating spawning habitat for perch in a number of its lakes in a project known as Fish Sticks. This is based on that model, but modified for conditions here.

The science behind it is straightforward. Before people built cabins and homes along the shorelines of our lakes, trees naturally fell into the water.  Sunken trees provide natural habitat for spawning and serve as protection from predators for young fish. Today, what’s known as complex wood habitat is missing from our developed lakes.

Big Kandi still has some natural shoreline, but there’s been a lot of development. There are 259 permanent residences, 15 parked recreational vehicles and two county parks along the 13.6 miles of shoreline on Big Kandiyohi, according to information from the DNR.

The submerged cedar trees should last 20 or more years in the water, said Coahran. Their longevity and complex structure make them well suited for this role and they are more than available. The trees being used were removed for prairie restoration on Wildlife Management Areas and Sibley State Park.

The structure they provide should benefit other fish species in the lake besides perch. Anglers are sure to discover they hold fish, and target them.

It’s expected that portions of some of the cedar trees will be visible above the water. Some sites may be marked with buoys if needed, but it’s believed that the trees are close enough to shore and deep enough so they won’t interfere with normal boating activities on the lake.

Landowners at the sites where the trees are being anchored gave their permission, while one site is in front of state-owned land on the lake.

Coahran is optimistic that the cedar trees will benefit a number of fish species in Big Kandi. He believes that cedar trees could also be used to improve fish habitat in some of the neighboring lakes, including Lake Lillian, Wakanda, and Minnetaga.

It’s anglers who will benefit most, and for that the credit will belong to the volunteers behind the project.

“I have to say it is going very smoothly, thanks to those guys,’’ he said.

Bill Neubauer pulls a cedar tree to be used for spawning habitat on Big Kandiyohi Lake.