Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
“Box of Chocolates” Fishery at Mingo and Desoto National Wildlife Refuges
Midwest Region, October 31, 2011
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Blue suckers and other fish typically found in the Missouri River were collected as flood waters receeded from DeSoto Lake.
Blue suckers and other fish typically found in the Missouri River were collected as flood waters receeded from DeSoto Lake. - Photo Credit: Steve Van Riper USFWS

Although 595 miles apart, Mingo and DeSoto National Wildlife Refuges looked eerily similar this year; they were both covered in flood waters! So how might that affect the fisheries?

Mingo National Wildlife Refuge is located in the Southeast corner of Missouri. A historic cypress swamp surrounded by Ozark hills, the area is home to a variety of fish and wildlife. Alligator gar, bowfin, catfish and crappie lurk in the murky waters of the ditches and amongst the cypress knees and lily pads of the swamps. Bass and sunfish populate the long established Fox and May ponds situated in the hills. It would take a flood of biblical proportions to inundate these ponds and the rest of the refuge has little connectivity with the St. Francis River.

Therefore the floods this year had little impact on the existing fishery with the exception of the Binford Unit. This moist soil project employed students from the co-located Job Corps allowing them to “turn some dirt” with heavy equipment. When the spillway in the nearby ditch backed up flood waters into the area it became a shallow 49 acre lake. Assistant refuge manager Lindsey Landowski asked Columbia FWCO if we could conduct a survey of both ponds and the Binford Unit. Electrofishing results mirrored surveys conducted in the 1980s and 1990s for May and Fox ponds (management report coming out soon) but the Binford Unit was a bit of a surprise. A short electrofishing survey revealed largemouth bass, crappie, gizzard shad, bluegill and redear sunfish. I would have expected carp and gar to have dominated the lake yet none were seen. The future management of the Binford Unit has not yet been established (stay tuned). However, the open shoreline and easy casting distance would make for an excellent area for kids fishing clinics. We have plans to conduct a more comprehensive survey in the spring to see what survives over the winter in the shallow water.

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Missouri River near Missouri Valley, Iowa. The Refuge is usually protected from floodwaters by levees. However, with record precipitation in the Northwest and subsequent historic releases from Gavins Point Dam, the levees could not hold back the flood waters. DeSoto Lake was reconnected to the river for several months and the majority of the Refuge was covered in floodwaters. As a result the lakes fishery has changed. Columbia FWCO in concert with Iowa DNR have helped manage DeSoto’s fishery since the 1990’s by conducting spring electrofishing and fall trap net surveys. This data supports our management recommendations for the lake.

For the most part DeSoto was a typical Midwestern bass, bluegill, crappie and walleye fishery. Now it has blended with the river fishery allowing suckers, catfish, sturgeon, gar, shad and carp to enter the lake. Rather than our fall trap netting efforts, refuge biologists Steve VanRiper and manager Tom Cox have agreed to hold off for now. This will allow DeSoto Refuge to recover from the flood and for us to research the best methodology for conducting a comprehensive spring survey to establish a new baseline to guide our fishery management recommendations. In the meantime the lake will become a “box of chocolates” fishery, for anglers to enjoy the suspense of not knowing what they might catch.

Contact Info: Jeff Finley, 573 234-2132 x .171, jeff_finley@fws.gov
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