Fisheries Lake Survey

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Name: Saganaga

Nearest Town: Grand Marais
Primary County: Cook
Survey Date: 08/04/2014
Inventory Number: 16063300
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Public Access Information

Ownership Type Description
US Forest Service Channel On the south side of Gull Lake, with parking for 30 vehicles. Access to Saganaga Lake via a navigable channel. No fee at this access, but channel can be tricky. BWCAW permits required for Saganaga Lake.
County Concrete On west side of Saganaga Narrows, with parking for 30 vehicles. Launch fee collected by Cook County, BWCAW permits also required.
US Forest Service Concrete At south end of Saganaga narrows, with parking for 20 vehicles. Launch fee collected by Cook County, BWCAW permits also required.

Fishing Regulations:

Special and/or Experimental Fishing Regulations exist on this lake. Please refer to our online Minnesota Fishing Regulations.

Lake Characteristics

Lake Area (acres): 6985.31
Littoral Area (acres): null
Maximum Depth (ft): 280
Water Clarity (ft): 12.6 (9.5-21)

Dominant Bottom Substrate: N/A
Abundance of Aquatic Plants: N/A
Maximum Depth of Plant Growth (ft): N/A

Did you know? Each year, DNR fisheries personnel stock game fish fry and fingerlings in lakes lacking habitat for natural reproduction.

Fish Sampled for the 2014 Survey Year


Gear Used

Number of fish per net

Average Fish Weight (lbs)

Normal Range (lbs)


Normal Range

Black Crappie Gill net 0.05 N/A 0.51 N/A
Burbot Gill net 0.12 0.3 - 1.3 1.64 0.7 - 1.9
Cisco Species Gill net 5.98 N/A 0.17 N/A
Lake Trout Gill net 0.56 0.8 - 4.3 1.69 1.2 - 3.1
Lake Whitefish Gill net 1.95 1.1 - 9.3 2.98 1.3 - 2.3
Northern Pike Gill net 1.12 0.3 - 1.0 2.52 2.7 - 5.3
Pumpkinseed Gill net 0.05 N/A 0.18 N/A
Smallmouth Bass Gill net 0.26 0.3 - 2.2 1.48 0.7 - 1.4
Walleye Gill net 2.16 0.6 - 9.7 0.88 1.1 - 3.3
White Sucker Gill net 0.72 1.7 - 5.0 2.84 1.6 - 2.4
Yellow Perch Gill net 0.21 0.3 - 2.8 0.09 0.1 - 0.2
Normal Ranges represent typical catches for lakes with similar physical and chemical characteristics.

Length of Selected Species (Trapnet, Gillnet) Sampled for the 2014 Survey Year

Species Number of fish caught in each category (inches)
0-5 6-8 9-11 12-14 15-19 20-24 25-29 30+ Total
black crappie 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 2
burbot 0 0 0 2 2 1 0 0 5
cisco species 2 74 147 28 6 0 0 0 257
lake trout 0 1 1 2 16 2 2 0 24
lake whitefish 0 2 6 5 25 46 0 0 84
northern pike 0 0 0 1 11 27 9 0 48
pumpkinseed 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
smallmouth bass 0 2 1 3 5 0 0 0 11
walleye 0 7 37 33 10 5 1 0 93
white sucker 0 1 3 0 22 5 0 0 31
yellow perch 4 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 9

For the record, the largest Brown Bullhead taken in Minnesota weighed 7 lbs., 1 oz. and was caught:

    Where: Shallow Lake, Itasca County
    When: 5/21/74
    Statistics: 24.4" length

Fish Stocking Activity

Fish Stocked by Species for the Last Ten Years

Year Species Size Number Pounds
2014 walleye fry 4,500,000 44.4
2013 Walleye fry 5,400,000 53.0
2010 Walleye fry 5,200,000 52.0
2009 Walleye fry 4,250,000 42.5

Stocking Notes
1 - indicates fish purchased and stocked by private citizens and sporting groups.
2 - indicates fish purchased by the DNR for stocking.

Stocking Fish Sizes
Fry - Newly hatched fish that are ready to be stocked usually called "swim-ups". Walleye fry are 1/3 of an inch or around 8 mm.
Fingerling - Fingerlings are one to six months old and can range from a size of one to twelve inches depending on the species. Walleye fingerlings range from three to eight inches each fall.
Yearling - Yearling fish are at least one year old. A one-year-old fish can range from three to twenty inches depending on the species. Walleye yearlings average from six to twelve inches.
Adult - Adult fish are fish that have reached maturity. Depending on the species, maturity can be reached at two years of age. Walleye reach maturity between the ages of four and six years.

Fish Consumption Guidelines

No fish consumption guidelines are available for this lake. For more information, see the "Fish Consumption Advice" pages at the Minnesota Department of Health.

Status of the Fishery (as of 08/04/2014)

The 2014 assessment indicated Saganaga Lake continued to support fair numbers of walleye, and good northern pike, lake trout, and smallmouth bass populations. Anglers willing to take a mixed bag can still find excellent fishing on this lake. To address concerns over low numbers of small walleye, and an overall decline in numbers of walleye of all sizes in this lake, an experimental walleye regulation will be in place beginning March 1 2015. The regulation, which covers only Minnesota waters of Saganaga Lake (including the Sea Gull River and Gull Lake) sets a minimum size limit of 17 inches for walleye. The walleye possession limit is set at three fish, only one of which may be larger than 20 inches.

The 2014 walleye gill net catch was the third lowest seen in this lake since 1964. Although the catch remained within the normal range for a lake of this type, it fell well short of the walleye catch goal in the 2008 lake management plan for Saganaga Lake. The catch consisted mostly of fish from moderately strong natural year classes produced in 2012 and 2011. Year classes supplemented by stocking (2013, 2010, and 2009) together accounted for about 13% of the walleye catch. Other year classes sampled had all been produced naturally, and it is likely that the stocked year classes also had a significant natural component. Growth rates for young walleye had been somewhat slower than average for the area. Three-year-old fish reached a mean length of 11.2 inches by the end of their third year, compared to an area mean of 12.0 inches in similar lakes.

One of the purposes of this assessment was to continue evaluating walleye fry stocking that began in 2009. Prior to 2009, anglers had expressed concerns for several years about the scarcity of small walleye. Assessment and creel survey data supported their perceptions. The 2008 assessment indicated that while natural reproduction continued to occur in Saganaga Lake, abundance of small walleye continued to be low, as indicated by low gill net catch rates for walleye under 17 inches in length. As a result, walleye fry stocking resumed in 2009. Walleye fry stocking in 2009 and 2010 did not appear to have been effective in increasing the number of small walleye present. Neither year class was well represented in the 2011 assessment catch, and walleye from those year classes accounted for just five percent of the 2014 catch. Walleye fry were also stocked in 2013 and 2014. Fish from the 2013 year class (although not necessarily stocked fish) accounted for about 8% of the walleye catch in 2014, and may have been more abundant than that figure would suggest. Young-of-year (YOY) walleye from the 2014 year class should have been vulnerable to 0.25-in-mesh trap nets used in this assessment. Although those nets have been effective sampling YOY walleye in other lakes in this area, and were all set in areas of Saganaga Lake where fry were stocked in 2014, no YOY walleye were captured. Although initial results have been somewhat discouraging, walleye fry stocking may yet prove valuable in this lake, and will continue.

Like the 2008 and 2011 assessments of Saganaga Lake, the 2014 assessment yielded a lower-than-usual catch of large walleye. The catch of walleye 20-in or larger in 2014 was 0.14 fish/set, tied (with 2008) for the second-lowest catch of fish in that size range seen in this lake since 1964. The catch of 20-in or larger fish was sharply lower than catches seen in 1989-2004, which ranged from 0.43 to 0.66 fish/net.

The lake trout population in Saganaga Lake remained in good shape in 2014. The 2014 lake trout catch was similar to other catches observed in this lake since 1964, and met the lake trout catch goal in the 2008 lake management plan. The lake trout catch included some fish over 25 in, which met the size goal in the 2008 plan. The mean weight for lake trout taken in 2014 was well within the normal range for a lake of this type, and was similar to means observed in most recent assessments of this lake. All lake trout taken in 2014 had been produced naturally. Several year classes were represented in the catch, with the strongest apparently produced in 2008. Lake trout growth had been about average for the area; fish reached a mean length of 16.1 inches by the end of their sixth year, equalling the area mean for similar lakes. Of the 24 lake trout collected in 2014, 20 were mature fish. Mature lake trout (of both sexes) as young as four years of age were collected.

The northern pike population was also in good condition in 2014. The northern pike gill net catch was above the normal range for a lake of this type, and was similar to other catches seen in this lake since 2001. The 2014 catch was dominated by two-year-old fish with a mean length at capture of 19.4 inches, but several other year classes contributed to the catch, including fish up to six years of age. It appeared that northern pike had experienced fairly consistent reproductive success in the years preceding this assessment. Growth of young northern pike had been about average; fish reached a mean length of 19.6 inches at the end of their third year, compared to an area average of 20.2 inches.

Smallmouth bass were present in fair numbers, and above-average sizes, in 2014. The 2014 smallmouth bass gill net catch was at the low end of the normal range for a lake of this type, but was similar to catches seen in this lake in recent years. The mean weight for fish taken in gill nets was relatively high, exceeding the normal range for the lake type. Past assessments provide no evidence for an increase in smallmouth bass abundance or size in this lake over the last 30 years, but anglers report smallmouth bass have become much more common and often dominate fishing in this lake. Some bass anglers have described the smallmouth bass fishing in Saganaga Lake as world class. Several bass year classes were included in the 2014 assessment catch, but none were strong. Growth of young smallmouth bass may have been somewhat faster than average.

Perch did not appear to have been abundant, or even common, in Saganaga Lake in 2014; however, low yellow perch catches have not been unusual in this lake in recent years. Fish taken in gill nets were small, offering little or no angling potential.

Black crappie were sampled for the first time in Saganaga Lake in 2014, but their numbers still appear to have been very low. In the winter of 2014, DNR Enforcement observed at least one party of anglers who had caught black crappie in the Saganaga Narrows area. Black crappie were subsequently taken in gill nets and 0.25-in-mesh trap nets during the 2014 assessment. Although sample sizes were very small, it appeared that several year classes may have been present. These fish probably moved into Saganaga Lake from Sea Gull Lake, where anglers have reported catching black crappie over the past several years (not yet confirmed by DNR assessment catches).

Lake whitefish and cisco gill net catches in 2014 were similar to catches seen in other assessments of Saganaga Lake done since 1989. Reproductive success appeared to have been fairly consistent for both species, despite the presence of rainbow smelt in this lake. Although few anglers target either species in this lake, those that do often report good success.

Small-mesh gill nets have been used to assess the rainbow smelt population in this lake in most assessments done since 1992. In each of those assessments, the catch of rainbow smelt has declined. The 2014 catch in small-mesh gill nets was the lowest seen to date in this lake, and was well below the normal range for assessments using that gear in the Grand Marais area. No rainbow smelt were collected in standard gill nets. Rainbow smelt abundance probably peaked in Saganaga Lake in the late 1980s or early 1990s, and their effects on fish (and invertebrate) communities may now be declining considerably.

Saganaga Lake remains infested with spiny waterflea. Anglers should be sure to drain their boats and all other containers, and thoroughly dry their equipment before moving to another lake.

For more information on this lake, contact:

Area Fisheries Supervisor
1356 Hwy 61 E
Grand Marais, MN 55604
Phone: (218) 387-3056
Internet: Grand Marais Fisheries

Lake maps can be obtained from:

Minnesota Bookstore
660 Olive Street
St. Paul, MN 55155
(651) 297-3000 or (800) 657-3757
No depth map available.

For general DNR Information, contact:

DNR Information Center
500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155-4040
TDD: (651) 296-6157 or (888) MINNDNR

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