Recreation destination: Turtle Lake might just have it all

Though popular with boaters, Turtle Lake offers moments of quiet for visitors who are willing to adjust their schedules.

Not all metro-area lakes can offer summer pleasure seekers a one-stop shop. But Shoreview’s Turtle Lake — popular with swimmers, anglers and boaters of all kinds — might fit the bill.

Turtle Lake is a known hotspot for recreational boat traffic, including water skiers, wakeboarders, and users of personal watercraft. Trailer parking spots at the public access are frequently full in the summer. Those who live on the lake or fish it often know to avoid the crowds by going out early or on cool days.

Eric Kalmes has lived on the east side for over five years, and appreciates what Turtle has to offer. He confirms an abundance of boat usage, and notes a recent increase in traffic. “That’s gone up with the pandemic, for sure,” noting Jet Skis in particular. “The last year or two, it’s been really busy.” He doesn’t seem to mind it much, and reports that people are generally responsible and respectful on the water.

Kalmes is also a fisherman and likes to fish on Turtle. He says it’s good: “You can usually go out and catch a few bass. And there are crappies, and maybe walleyes if you’re lucky.”

Walleye is listed as the primary management species in Turtle Lake, and they are stocked annually. In the 2019 survey, walleyes were sampled in strong numbers, indicating walleye management is working on this heavily pressured lake. East Metro Fisheries Supervisor T.J. DeBates said, “The walleye population is in very good shape for a metro lake. We’ve been stocking fingerlings or yearlings since 2014 and our gill net catches have not been below 3 per net since switching from fry to fingerlings/yearlings.”

Though a decent walleye fishery may be more of an exception than a rule, the bigger story may be largemouth bass management in Turtle Lake. An experimental regulation established Turtle in 1997 as a catch-and-release lake for largemouths, which was designed to increase the number and size of bass in the lake. After a couple decades, fisheries management took a critical look at the results of that rule.

DeBates says bass are numerous, but the average size did not improve. In 2020, an experimental regulation was implemented to allow for the harvest

of bass under 14 inches. “The potential harvest of bass less than 14 inches could increase average size,” DeBates noted. Lake surveys every five years will show whether sizes improve under this new rule, which will be in place until 2035.

Just like the bass of Turtle Lake, crappies there may also get special rules. “Crappie populations are naturally cyclic but this could be due to increased harvest and pressure in the metro. We are considering Turtle Lake for sunfish and crappie special regulations in the future. We just changed the bass regulation in 2020 and wanted to let the dust settle,” said DeBates.

In addition to good metro fishing, another draw may be the good water quality present in Turtle Lake. According to data available from the Minnesota DNR and the Minnesota LakeBrowser website, the lake’s natural water clarity is higher than that of most other lakes in the area. Clarity has trended upward since 2010, from less than 2 meters (1.91) to more than 3 meters (3.37) in 2020.

Swimmers flock regularly to the beach in Turtle Lake County Park. The marked swimming area is not allocated a lifeguard, but is spacious, gently sloping and treated to keep weeds out. There is also a restroom/changing building with outdoor showers available.

The park sits in the southeast corner of the lake, off Hodgson Road. It is well shaded by mature hardwood trees and has a playground and picnic shelter. The public boat access is also located there; it has 18 trailer parking spaces and 5 dedicated car top boat carrier spaces. Amenities include a dock, nearby restrooms and a new boat cleaning station.

Kalmes hopes visiting boaters make use of the cleaning station and other aquatic invasive specifies (AIS) mitigating procedures. He notes that many nearby lakes have Zebra mussel infestations, and that Turtle does not.

“We don’t have Zebra mussels, yet.”

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