By Nick Simonson
Few deals can top a two-for-one special and the same can be said for lakes that provide a two-tiered fishing option. Whether it’s perch and walleyes, bass and bluegills or pike and perch, these common predator-panfish scenarios can be found throughout the region offering up two popular angling targets in the same water. As it turns out, the way many smaller lakes throughout the upper Midwest are managed, that two-tiered approach is as much for the benefit of the angler as it is for the particular water and the populations of fish which live in it.
With the varied seasonal angling opportunities in the upper Midwest, two-tiered fisheries provide a pair of options that keep a water attractive to anglers throughout the year. Where bass are active in warmer months, bluegills provide a year-round bite and can be a ton of fun through the ice as well as providing consistent openwater action. In the region’s smaller slough-type lakes, perch often serve as the panfish option and a viable food source for predators such as walleyes and pike. When paired with the latter, the duo’s hardiness also makes for a more sustainable option, according to Scott Gangl, Fisheries Management Section Leader for the North Dakota Game & Fish Department (NDG&F).
“One of the reasons pike and perch go together is because they’re both fairly tolerant of low dissolved oxygen,” Gangl relayed, “in the wintertime in some of our sloughs, those are two fish species that might make it through a harsh winter a little better than say walleye or bass or bluegill, especially in some of our shallower sloughs throughout the central or southeastern part of the state,” he continued, with a nod to the state’s fishery expansion into those shallower waters which have grown in the past two decades.
Opportunities for Control
Two-tiered fisheries help not only provide increased opportunities for a variety of angling experiences on a water or in a series of waters in a certain area, but also help keep the predator-prey relationship in check. Stocking just one fish species into a lake, particularly bluegills, that go without the check of having something to eat them can result in overpopulation and stunting of average fish size as they fill up the water and compete for limited food items. The addition of a predator, like pike or bass, helps control the population of the smaller fish and keep their populations in balance. This in turn provides expanded opportunities for anglers who can angle for one or both species on a given trip or throughout the year.
“It just depends on the angler, we’ll see some people that are specifically fishing for bass and then you might have some people that are fishing from shore and just casting a jig and don’t really care what they catch, they just want to catch a fish,” Gangl stated, “wherever we can diversify the opportunities we can do that and then offer some predation to then control certain species from getting out of control,” he added.
A Chance to Connect
Smaller, more readily biting fish such as bluegill, crappies and perch also make two-tiered lakes places of connection for younger or less experienced anglers looking for action. Whether fished under a bobber with a split shot and a hook or simple techniques like small jigs and spinners, the active fish provide success, which is crucial in keeping new anglers coming back to the water. Having those options for fast action, along with species that may require more technical efforts such as walleyes or bass, help an angler succeed, learn and evolve all on the same water. Those larger game fish also give assisting anglers who have advanced beyond the basics a target to try for in between baiting hooks and helping new fishers up the learning curve.
“For kids or beginning anglers, we try to stock fish in there that are willing to bite and ready to bite on any given day, that way they have a good chance of success and make that outing successful,” Gangl concludes, stressing the importance of action in hooking new sportsmen.
This spring and summer, check out a number of the two-tiered fisheries available. Use the predator-prey relationship to determine tactics that work – such as matching the color of the smaller forage species with crankbaits, spoons and spinners for the bigger species – and focus on the more aggressive option when taking new anglers out. For anglers of all experience levels, it’s an experience – and a deal – that’s hard to beat.
Featured Photo: Small lakes that have both bass and panfish are typical two-tiered fisheries providing active fish and targets for anglers of all skill levels. Simonson Photo.