Hay Lake is located in northern Aitkin County, about four miles southeast of Jacobson. Most of the land surrounding the lake is in public ownership with private property confined to the northern portion of the lake. The abundant undeveloped shoreline helps foster a tranquil setting, which would appeal to anglers seeking a peaceful outing. There is a public access associated with a state forest campground along the southeastern shore. In addition to the standard fisheries survey, nearshore sampling was also completed in a special assessment to calculate the index of biotic integrity (IBI); basically a general measure of lake health.
Hay Lake supports fisheries for popular species such as northern pike, black crappie, and bluegill. The pike population has remained within the expected range for similar lakes in each of the last six surveys, dating back to 1976. Pike growth rates were slow, but overall size was good with fish over 30" captured in the survey. The average size from gill nets was 23.2" and 3.0 pounds, with 39% measuring greater than 24". The numbers of larger pike have been increasing in each of the last four surveys. Anglers are encouraged to practice selective harvest of smaller pike in this population to preserve the quality nature of this fishery.
Bluegill abundance decreased to 23.6/trap net and was within the expected range for similar lakes. Growth was slow compared to other lakes in Aitkin County, and few fish exceeded 8" in length. The black crappie population displayed similar characteristics to the bluegill population with moderate abundance and very slow growth. The size structure was poor and they averaged only 6.7", with just three fish over 8" captured in the survey.
This was the first survey in which no yellow perch were sampled in trap nets or gill nets, athough some were observed in the shoreline backpack electrofishing assessment (part of IBI sampling). Perch are an ecologically important species and act as both predators (for instance of young bluegill) and prey (especially for northern pike). Another species observed in the electrofishing sample was golden shiner, which can also be an important food resource for northern pike.
It is important in a small lake like Hay, to maintain good coarse woody cover along shore. Trees that fall into the water are an integral component of fish habitat. When trees do fall into the water, please leave them be, or if they fall in an inconvenient location, just move them out of the way rather than removing them. This coarse woody material has been found to be of great benefit to yellow perch and panfish, by providing cover, spawning habitat, as well as habitat for important invertebrate food resources.