Diving into Mille Lacs Lake Biology


George Big Bear feels like he found a sunken treasure with his new position as Fisheries Technician with the Mille Lacs Band DNR.

A lifelong avid fisherman on Mille Lacs, George will now get to see the lake from the perspective of the scientists — not to mention the fish.

“This job fits me very well because I’m such a passionate fisherman,” said George. “I bring everyone I possibly can fishing. I’m on the water, and I know what the lake’s going through. It’s not like coming to work when it’s something you love so much, and learning the scientific side, that’s a bonus too.”

As part of his job, George will be the DNR’s designated scuba diver, assisting Fisheries Biologist Carl Klimah with a groundbreaking new study of Mille Lacs walleyes (see below).

George has been learning to dive in a pool in Brainerd with the Minnesota School of Diving, and soon he’ll finish his course with four deeper dives in the Crosby mine pit lakes.

“Initially when I got in the pool and went down with the snorkel, that took a little getting used to,” George said. “And then actually going under, that’s something else. It’s just amazing. I can’t wait to get in the lake and be in that environment.”

This spring, Carl and George will place more than 60 receivers on the lake bottom in a grid pattern spaced evenly throughout the lake as part of a walleye tracking study.

The receivers will pick up signals from 140 tagged fish — 70 adults and 70 juveniles — to determine where the fish are spending their time. The goal is to better understand why the population of walleyes in the lake has declined over the last several years.

The hypothesis of the study is that increasing water temperature and clarity is squeezing walleyes together near the bottom, which results in cannibalism of young walleyes by older fish. Tracking individual fish is a great way to test the validity of that hypothesis, and it may result in other interesting information as well.

If a receiver stops working, it will be George’s job to put on his scuba gear and determine the problem.
George has enjoyed learning the science from Carl, while teaching Carl a thing or two about fishing the big lake. 
“Carl’s awesome to work with,” said George. “We blend well.”

Landing the job was a blessing, George concluded. “I’ve done a lot of construction in my life, but this is something I love to do. I’m just happy to be part of the DNR and part of this study. It’s amazing the stuff you learn in a short amount of time.”

Submitted Photos: George Big Bear is an avid fisherman who is getting a new perspective on Mille Lacs Lake walleyes.