Fishing guides share how zebra mussels are making fishing a bit more difficult

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

Fishing is fun but has its challenges. Added to the list of challenges, notes fishing guide Ross Hagemeister, are zebra mussels.

Fishing guide Ross Hagemeister prepares to clean fish after an outing with his guests.

These fingernail-sized invasive species have spread to several lakes and waterways in Otter Tail County. On July 26 Clitherall Lake was added to the list of waterways infestated with zebra mussels.

Hagemeister, guiding this reporter and a friend on Wednesday morning, Aug. 4, at a lake in Otter Tail County, told us that we would encounter zebra mussels when using bottom bouncers as we pursued walleyes.

It’s well known that zebra mussels cling to hard surfaces underwater such as docks and boat lifts. Anglers are now finding attachments of zebra mussels, periodically, when pulling up lines to check on bait attached to fish hooks.

“This is what we’re experiencing this summer,” says Hagemeister. “My guests quickly learn that what might feel like a walleye biting is actually the bottom bouncer coming in contact with zebra mussels.”

The good news is that Hagemeister teaches his guests on what a walleye catch feels like, unlike when the bottom bouncer passes over zebra mussels.

My friend Richard Tomhave and I learned the proper techniques from Hagemeister on Aug. 4 and caught walleyes.

That being said, other challenges with zebra mussels should not be downplayed.

Zebra mussels have the ability to filter large amounts of water. This results in increased light penetration which allows submerged aquatic plants to grow in deeper water.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) notes that as water clarity increases, so does light penetration.

“That makes walleyes scatter to deeper waters, or water with more weeds, where angers aren’t used to fishing,” said one DNR representative.

As mentioned, fishing guide Hagemeister meets zebra mussel and other challenges head on.

“It’s very rewarding when I finish up with my guests and they tell me that it made their vacation,” says Hagemeister on his website.

When asked what makes Otter Tail County special for his job, Ross says it’s nice that he gets to live where people vacation and that he doesn’t know why anyone would go anywhere else. 

“Otter Tail County is phenomenal for fishing resources,” he says, “with 1,100 fishable lakes and 134 public lake accesses.”