I love lily pads. And I am by no means the first fisherman to express that sentiment.
For me it goes back to tossing a top water frog among the pads by the Q bridge at Como Lake in Bloomer and having a lunker bass rise to inhale it from below.
Or it goes back the throwing a Mepps spinner next to a line of pads on Island Lake and boating my first northern.
Then there was the time monster crappies, one after another, spun my inflatable raft around in circles when I hooked them on a fly rod among some pads on Jack Lake in Langlade County.
Oh, those are some fishing memories. But in 1992 when we bought our little house on Little Lake Wissota I was too thrilled about having a fishing spot in my back yard to dwell on the lack of lily pads for fish habitat on the lake.
Indeed, they were nowhere to be found, or so it seemed. Eventually, I found patches here and there, like way up by the power lines on Paint Creek, around the Yellow River area, or in some spots up Stillson Creek.
Today, I have healthy patches on both sides of my dock on Mermaid Bay – or did this season anyway. The lily pads are fading quickly now as fall settles in.
While far from a predominant aquatic plant species on Lake Wissota, lily pads are now easy to find. No, I don’t have any stories about catching any lunkers among the Wissota pads yet, but I have caught plenty of bluegills in their cover, and there was the time I was surprised to find a school of decent-sized walleye hanging out among them.
Clearly, lily pads are coming back to the lake, and we should see more and more as years go by. The turning point is easy to find.
The DNR conducted an aquatic plant study on Lake Wissota in 1989-90 in preparation for the Wissota Dam relicensing that was to come up a decade later. The study was repeated in 2005 and 2009 by researchers from Beaver Creek Reserve to assess the effects of policy changes that went into effect after the relicensing. You can view the full report on the Lake Wissota Improvement and Protection Association website at www.lwipa.net.
Utilizing data from those reports, an analysis of the plant community on Little Lake Wissota revealed that lily pads made up only four percent of aquatic plant species on the small lake, and the figure did not change in the 2005 survey.
However, by 2009 lily pads made up 10 percent of aquatic plant species. No data is available since then, but I can tell you I did not have patches of lily pads on both sides of my dock in 2009. As I recall, we may have had a few early plants on the right side appearing then.
Analysis of the data specifically points to the end of the late winter lake drawdown as having a dramatic effect on lake habitats.
Lake residents certainly remember those days. Xcel Energy drew down the water levels on the lake by several feet in late winter, before ice out. That made the ice on the lake settle on the bottom in shallow areas, crushing what was underneath, including any plants that might have a mind to emerge when the water warmed up.
In the years following the end of the drawdown, aquatic plants returned to the shallows. Lily pads slowly spread from their small holds in the upper regions of feeder creeks, and we now have lily pads on the lake.
Of course, this is only a small slice of the overall picture of the plant community on Lake Wissota and what it means for overall water quality and fish habitat.
But this example shows how policies like the late winter drawdowns make a difference, and to have the right policies for the health of a lake makes all the difference. In other words, this is a resource that must be managed.
If you love the lake, learn more about it and how we can work together to protect its health for the next century through good management practices.
Maybe there’s a way to bring the frogs back next.