Ball Bluff Lake is located in northern Aitkin County, just south of Jacobson. Although the lake is within Savanna State Forest, riparian ownership is private except for a small public water access on the west side of the lake. The shoreline consists mainly of gently sloping mixed forests. Residential development is light with about 10 dwellings per mile of shore, ranging from seasonal recreational properties to permanent homes.
Although the lake is only 159 acres, it has steep drop-offs and reaches a maximum depth of 78 feet. Temperature and dissolved oxygen profiles are collected regularly to monitor the amount of habitat available for cold water species such as tullibee (northern cisco). The tullibee catch was the highest since 1977 at 1.8 per gill net, but survey data suggest just three year-classes have been produced over the last decade.
Walleye stocking was discontinued after 2000 due to lack of success, but anglers may still hook into an occasional fish. The walleye catch of 0.8 fish per gill net was similar to the six previous surveys dating back to 1952. Interestingly, eight of the ten walleye collected were from stocked year classes, while two fish were the result of natural reproduction.
Spring night electrofishing was conducted in June to survey the abundance and size structure of the largemouth bass population. The catch rate of 18 fish per hour of sampling, the highest of the three surveys since 1991, suggests anglers targeting this popular and sometimes acrobatic species should have plenty of opportunities. Size ranged from 5.3 to 16.9 inches and averaged 11.6 inches.
Northern pike in Ball Bluff Lake were near average for the type of lake, and although some larger fish were present, the number over 24 inches was only about 7% of our catch. Recycling of large pike is the best way to maximize enjoyment of a limited resource of quality individuals.
Panfish anglers visiting the lake will discover an abundant bluegill population. Fish caught during the 2011 survey averaged 5.5 inches, but fish up to 8.6 inches were sampled. While bluegills greater than 7 inches, accounted for 14% of the catch, the slow growth rate in Ball Bluff suggests anglers should use restraint when harvesting this species. Black crappie might be harder to locate, but the small population that persists in the lake provides some opportunity for this popular species.
In addition to the standard survey work, IBI (Index of Biotic Integrity) sampling was also conducted in 2011. IBI sampling included backpack electrofishing and seining to more broadly sample the general fish community and develop a fish-based index of overall lake health. Combining all sampling gear, eighteen species of fish were collected during the 2011 survey.