I've fished the lake since I was old enough to cast. I've been a fishing guide on Waconia for over a decade now and I've logged thousands of hours on this bowl shaped pond. I'm not saying that I'm an expert on the lake, but if you spend enough time on a single body of water you notice changes. I do my best to pay attention to the details and understand why, especially when my job depends on it. It seems many of you have seen these changes too. Here are a few things that come to mind and questions that I've been asked by anglers on the lake. I'll call this a Lake Waconia Q & A session.
Why is the muskie bite so tough this year? A few factors likely contribute, but I feel it is mostly related to pressure. The lake has been fished hard for several years now, and I believe that the population in Waconia is possibly 50% less than it was 5 years ago during the "hot bite" window. I really started to notice the impact last year. Lack of proper C&R practices have left many fish floating, and old age has probably accounted for a few others. Muskies were stocked in Waconia in the mid 80's. An average lifespan of 25 years means natural death is certainly taking place. While regular stocking still occurs to keep the population at healthy levels, I feel strongly that the death rate the past few years has been extremely higher than the stocking rate.
Pointing fingers is not what I'm getting at. We've all fished the lake and enjoyed the great fishing, myself included. The reality is that I've counted as many as 10 floaters during a single week of fishing. Not every week is that way, but it was a common trend to see dead muskies floating the past few seasons. I've seen more floaters on Waconia than all the other muskie lakes I've fished combined. I attribute that to my hours on the lake and the small size of the lake. In a typical day, I'll cover much of the lake. A floating white log stands out and I always take a look. Therefore, if it floats I will probably see it. That's not always the case on Minnetonka or Mille Lacs, so my numbers of "floaters" may be skewed on Waconia. Regardless, they are ridiculously high.
Here's a fishy equation to consider. Lake Minnetonka is roughly 14,000 + acres and the muskie population is stocked to hold roughly 1,100 adult fish (of 30 something inches or larger). Lake Waconia is roughly 3,000 acres. I don't know what % they stock this lake to hold, but if it is based on similar calculations to Minnetonka, which I believe it is, then we are looking at Maybe 300 fish total when it's at a healthy or high level. With the recent mortality on this lake, the numbers are hard to ignore. If the muskies aren't there, we can't catch them. This isn't science, just common sense. Proper catch & release is the most important aspect of muskie fishing. When it goes wrong, the effects are noticeable in a hurry. I believe this is the case here and my notes lead me to believe that we might have a loss as high as 50%.
I personally feel that the muskie population is cyclical and it will come back with time. It just may take a few years. I also believe that the "glory days" for Waconia muskies were just a few short years ago. I'm not sure if it will ever be what it once was. In my opinion, the population in Waconia was at a record level around '07 and '08. If you fished it back then you probably agree. Somewhere in the middle of then and now is probably a little more realistic for the future. It still remains a tremendous fishery and holds extremely large fish, but we'll just have to work harder for each one. With that said, I still believe it's a trophy fishery that's worth a cast.
Did the cold spring temps effect the muskie bite? It probably has some effect on the overall catch rate because a fish will eat more when it's metabolism is running faster. If a fish eats more often, it has more chances of being caught. With that being said, my "personal opinion" of muskie fishing on Waconia is that it has always been a good lake to fish early in the season when the water is cold. I can't explain why, but I've had some of my best years of muskie fishing out there when the temps were cool. Therefore I don't attribute the cold spring to the entire problem.
Are there more Northern Pike in the lake right now? I have seen and heard of more pike being caught this year than the past few. Scientifically, I cannot say why, but mother nature will allow more pike to thrive if the competition for food is lower. Less muskies will probably equal more pike. In the past, Waconia was always good for a few large pike. Mid to upper 30 inch fish. Not many, but a few good ones. This year I have seen more of the 1 to 2 yr old pike, under 24 inches, which leads me to believe that there is less competition for food (less muskies). It's just my opinion, but I am once again pointing at common sense to back me up with this case. If the muskie numbers are down, I wouldn't be surprised to see the pike catch go up significantly in the next couple of years.
Do muskies get conditioned to lures and fisherman? In short, Yes. 5 to 10 years ago they would smash any lure that passed by their face. After being caught a few times, that lure still looks like food, but it seems they are more timid. This seems true statewide. But, a muskie is still a muskie and you never know what they will eat and when. Follows have gone down for me. Many days if I see 3 I will get 2 strikes. That's common. less follows and more strikes, with far shorter feeding windows. It seems they don't follow a lure just for poops and giggles any longer. I attribute that to conditioning. It's the nature of the beast.
Deep breathe...Are you still with me? Time for a break. This is a lot of information. My hope is to give the most accurate details of what I believe to be true on lake Waconia. Hence the long drawn out paragraphs. Since I have several topics remaining, I think I will tackle them in segments. Still to come on Waconia...Cormorant effects, forage situations, walleye populations and weed growth - what is this grass and where is the milfoil?. I really believe that all of these topics relate to all the species that we fish fish. I hope this helps answer some questions you may have when you are out there. Until next time, keep on livin' your dream!