Bear Head Lake is a medium-sized lake located 10 miles east of Tower, Minnesota within Bear Head Lake State Park. The lakeshore is entirely managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources via Bear Head Lake State Park - a partner in the Sentinel Lakes project. Water quality in this lake is good, with an average summer clarity of 2 to 3 meters. The lake has a very small (3:1) watershed to lake surface ratio. The watershed is almost entirely forest and wetland and is located at the headwaters of the Birch Lake/Kawishiwi River watersheds. With the exception of the State Park campground in the northwest part of the lake, the entire lakeshore is undeveloped.
Near-shore and submersed aquatic plants are abundant and diverse on the lake. The unique characteristics of the lake’s basin provide habitat for a number of rare aquatic plants. Thirteen of the identified aquatic plants are recognized as species intolerant to disturbances and two species are listed as Minnesota species of concern.
The fish community of Bear Head Lake is made up of both warm- and cool-water species including Walleye, Northern Pike, Largemouth Bass, Bluegill, Black Crappie, Pumpkinseed and Yellow Perch. Bear Head Lake supports a high quality Walleye fishery with above average gillnet catches compared to similar lakes. Yellow Perch numbers have been declining over the past several years and populations of warm-water Centrarchids (Bluegill, Pumpkinseed, Largemouth Bass and Black Crappie) have been increasing. This is a common pattern in many northern Minnesota lakes and may possibly be linked to climate change. Because of the intensive monitoring Bear Head Lake receives as part of the Sentinel Lakes Program, it offers an excellent opportunity to observe the mechanisms driving a potential shift from a Percid (Walleye, Yellow Perch) to a Centrarchid dominated fish community.
Bear Head Lake was chosen as a Sentinel Lake because it is a good representative of potential changes in fish communities affecting many northern Minnesota Lakes and its location within Bear Head Lake State Park provides opportunity for collaboration during monitoring efforts.