Little Elk Lake is located in Sherburne County, northwest of Zimmerman. The lake has a surface area of 362 acres and a maximum depth of 15 feet. The watershed is large and consists primarily of agriculture, forest, and wetlands. A small dam is located at the outlet on the south end of the lake and a public access is adjacent to the dam. A small resort is located on the west side of the lake. The last survey was in 2002.
Water quality is poor and only 15 aquatic plant species were found, including Eurasian milfoil, an invasive species. Very little emergent vegetation was present. Curly-leaf pondweed (invasive) was abundant in early June and found growing at or near the surface in 34% of the lake area. An additional 2% of the lake had been chemically treated in the spring to control curly-leaf pondweed. A heavy algal bloom was present in late July, limiting water clarity to one foot. Efforts to improve water quality in Little Elk Lake are recommended and will benefit the fishery as well.
Northern pike numbers were higher than 2002, but within the expected range for similar lakes. Average length was 25 inches, the largest individual was 33 inches, and 57% of northern pike were longer than 24 inches. Average weight was 3 pounds. Growth was fast; northern pike grew to 24 inches in three years and most were two or three years old. The fishery could benefit if anglers kept small pike (< 24 inches) and released larger ones.
Walleye fry were stocked with good success in the past, but poor results in recent years led to the current plan for fingerling stocking every other year. The 2012 catch was much lower than 2002 and below the expected range for the lake class. Prior walleye catches have been much higher due to successful fry stocking. Future surveys will hopefully show improving results from fingerling stocking. Average length and weight were 19 inches and two pounds; the largest walleye caught was 24 inches. Thirty six percent of walleye caught were longer than 20 inches. Growth was fast; most walleye were age four and reached 18 inches in four years.
Largemouth bass were sampled by daytime electrofishing in May. The catch rate of 37/hr is similar to the Montrose median of 38/hr. Average length was 13 inches and the largest individual was 19 inches. Forty-three percent of adult bass were longer than 15 inches. 2002 results were nearly the same, but the average size (10 inches) was smaller.
The black crappie catch was the highest recorded and far above the expected range for lakes similar to Little Elk. However, mean length (6.2 inches) and weight were low; the largest black crappie was 10 inches long. Most fish were two years old and growth was fast, growing over five inches in two years. However, older fish had slow growth.
Bluegill numbers were higher in 2012 than 2002, but within the expected range for similar lakes. Mean length was 5 inches and the largest bluegill was less than eight inches long. Most bluegill were two or three years old and growth was average, reaching 5 inches in three years.
The yellow perch catch was lower than expected for similar lakes, much lower than in 2002, and the lowest ever recorded from Little Elk Lake. Average length was 6 inches and the largest individual was 7 inches. Other species captured included: black, brown, and yellow bullheads, bowfin, common carp, golden shiner, pumpkinseed, shorthead redhorse, and white sucker.
- Eurasian Watermilfoil
Recreational activities such as recreational boating, angling, waterfowl hunting, and diving may spread aquatic invasive species. Some aquatic invasive species can attach to boats, while others can become tangled on propellers, anchor lines, or boat trailers. Many species can survive in bilge water, ballast tanks, and motors or may hide in dirt or sand that clings to nets, buckets, anchors, and waders. Fortunately, completing simple steps can prevent the transport of aquatic invasive species.