Inside Region 3
Midwest Region
Select this button stylePrint Friendly

Community members of Prairie Island are enjoying the youth fishing day. Photo by USFWS.

Community members of Prairie Island are enjoying the youth fishing day. Photo by USFWS.

Prairie Island Indian Community holds first Community Fishing Day

Prairie Island Indian Community is a small reservation of the Mdewakanton (those who were born of the waters) Dakota along the Mississippi River near Red Wing, Minnesota. The people of this tribe have lived in this area for many generations. The La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office has maintained a relationship with the Prairie Island Indian Community since the 1980s aiming to fulfill the Service’s Tribal Trust Responsibilities. Over time, we have monitored the fisheries community in nearby backwaters of the Mississippi and built up a fish collection at the Prairie Island Indian Community Department of Land and Environment. In 2016, an opportunity to gain visibility and improve access to recreational fishing opportunities arose and we decided it was worth our pursuit.

Treasure Island Resort and Casino is the lifeblood of the community’s economy. Tribal members consider it the new buffalo. Thousands of Minnesotans of all walks of life call this their workplace. When the casino was built a dredge pit was made to support its base and over time subsurface river water filled the pit creating a pond. Over the years it was taken over by willows and brush. When tribal biologist Gabe Miller mentioned this pond to me, I was immediately intrigued by the possibilities. The tribe had already begun the legwork of cleaning up the brush to make it accessible. Our next step was to see what was living in this pond, and we started making plans to get a boat in the water for some electrofishing.

In October of 2016, I made the trip up to Prairie Island with a small electrofishing boat. Gabe and other staff from the Department of Land and Environment hopped aboard and we worked our way along the shorelines. One thing was immediately clear: This pond had some influence from the river. Along with the typical centrarchids (panfish) we would expect in a pond, bigmouth buffalo, smallmouth buffalo, bowfin, short-nose gar, gizzard shad and common carp were other inhabitants. It turns out a small culvert allows floodwaters from the Mississippi to flow into the pond. Along with the high water, fish from the river enter the pond. My immediate reaction was that this will provide a challenge in the future management of this pond.

Fast forward to 2017, Gabe was determined to hold the first annual Community Fishing Day. Drawing from my experiences of “Kids Fishing Days” at Genoa National Fish Hatchery and others, I provided Gabe with some guidance about what works well and what doesn't. With a limited panfish population, we decided we should request some rainbow trout from Genoa National Fish Hatchery to up the ante. On May 24, hatchery biologist Orey Eckes and I stocked 525 rainbow trout. Prior to stocking we placed a block net to reduce our fishing area from 11 acres down to three. This served two purposes: 1) condense the stocked trout for catchability, and 2) condense the kids to help us to keep track of them!

The morning of the event we set up several educational displays on fish, mussels and invertebrates for kids and their families to peruse throughout the day. We also had a fish measuring and weighing station, a fish cleaning station, and my personal favorite, a fish cooking and eating station. Prizes were handed out for big fish, small fish, and most fish for adult and kid divisions. Not counting the rainbow trout, nine species were caught, with the highlights including a short-nose gar and a common carp, both of which put up a good fight. I even witnessed my first catching of an orange-spotted sunfish, a trophy class five incher for a species that shouldn’t break four! Gabe proclaimed this event as their most successful to date in terms of attendance. Several participants were already asking when the next event would take place! This activity put a spotlight on the pond as a resource available for use by the community. I would expect the next event to have greater participation as word of mouth spreads. Hopefully, families will begin to take advantage of the pond on their own time as well.

We’ve inserted a grate to ensure large fish could not enter and exit the bond from the Mississippi river. There is still a lot of work to do to bring the pond to its full potential. The pond largely lacks a predator base, resulting in a stunted panfish population and the biomass of planktivorous fish is incredibly high. There appears to be little structure to provide cover for fish or invertebrates and aquatic vegetation has been unable to get a foothold, probably due to the carp and buffalo. We will begin to address these issues to try to create a balanced and quality fishery. In the meantime, the pond has already shown its ability to provide a great outdoor experience for the community.

By Nicholas Bloomfield
La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

Last updated: August 4, 2017