Elk Lake is one of 25 "sentinel lakes" located around Minnesota for the Sustaining Lakes in a Changing Environment (SLICE) project. The project is designed to help scientists understand, predict, and respond to outcomes of major drivers of change (e.g. development, agriculture, invasive species, climate change) on lake habitats and fish populations.
Elk Lake is a 271 acre lake with a maximum depth of 93 feet and is located in Itasca State Park in southern Clearwater County. The lake is accessible via Wilderness Drive and the boat launch area has room for 3-4 vehicles with trailers. Elk drains into Lake Itasca via Chambers Creek. The lake is primarily managed for Walleye and Muskellunge, but Northern Pike and sunfish are also of special interest. Special regulations on Elk include catch and release only for Muskellunge and a minimum length requirement of 40 inches for the harvest of Northern Pike with only one fish allowed in possession.
Walleye are commonly sought after by anglers fishing Elk Lake. Walleye fingerlings are stocked on alternate years and stocking success is monitored by periodic surveys, the most recent being in 2016. A total of 34 Walleyes were captured in gillnets, and aging of the fish sampled indicates that natural reproduction is also contributing to the fishery. Lengths of Walleye sampled ranged from 6.7 to 21.4 inches and averaged 15.3 inches. The average weight per Walleye was 1.2 lbs.
Muskellunge are another very popular game fish in Elk Lake. Muskie lengths have been observed near 50 inches in recent years; however, none were captured in this particular assessment as muskies tend to avoid the sampling gears used in summer assessments. Targeted Muskellunge assessments are scheduled approximately every 5 to 6 years.
Northern Pike are abundant in Elk Lake. A total of 50 were captured in gillnets in the 2016 survey with lengths ranging from 13.7 to 37.2 inches and averaging 22.0 inches. These results are similar to the previous survey in 2013 indicating a healthy and stable population. The larger pike are often found near offshore structure with submerged vegetation.
Bluegill are also abundant on Elk. During the 2016 survey, 83 were captured in trap nets with lengths ranging from 2.9 to 9.0 inches and averaging 5.8 inches, similar to findings in 2013. Bluegill are mostly found in the shallows around reeds and bulrush but will move out deeper as the summer progresses and water temperatures increase.
Yellow Perch are one of the most abundant fish species in the lake and are very important as a food source to Walleyes, Northern Pike, Largemouth Bass, and Muskellunge. Lengths of perch captured in gillnets ranged from 5.4 to 10.9 inches and averaged 6.7 inches. Of those fish, 23% were over 9.5 inches, a very desirable size for anglers.
Tullibee (Cisco) are also present in Elk but generally not represented well in summer surveys. However, they are still important to the Elk Lake food web because predator fish rely on them for prey. Ciscoes are a key resource in helping those predator species reach larger sizes because of their excellent nutritional value. In 2016, 24 Tullibees were captured in gillnets with lengths ranging from 9.6 to 13.8 inches and averaging 11.4 inches.