Planning Assistance to States: Big Sandy Lake Fish Movement, Aitkin County, Minnesota

U.S. Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District
Published Sept. 27, 2021
Updated: March 30, 2023

The purpose of the study is to:

·Estimate escapement rates through the dam of fish from Big Sandy Lake in relation to environmental and chronological conditions

·Estimate the proportion of the fish population that remain in the lake compared with those that move upriver in the watershed

·Estimate mortality rates of fish

·Estimate angler harvest of Walleye, Northern Pike, Black Crappie and Yellow Perch in Big Sandy Lake

·Monitor population dynamics for Walleye, Northern Pike, Tullibee, Black Crappie and Yellow Perch

This data will provide managers with a better understanding of fish behavior, harvest, movement, and escapement in this reservoir with emphasis on the configuration and operation of Big Sandy Dam. The results could be used to alter harvest regulations, guide dam management, and guide the construction, operation, and timing of fish passage structures and/or barriers to reduce or optimize fish escapement.


This is a Planning Assistance to States (PAS) 50/50 cost shared study between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). A Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Unit Agreement between Iowa State University (ISU) and USACE was executed in April 2021, which allows ISU to partner on the study and provide technical expertise. Stakeholders such as tribal partners and the Big Sandy Lake Association have been engaged to support this study.


The PAS Agreement between the MNDNR and USACE was executed on Jan. 31, 2020. The study is planned to span 5 years from 2020-2024. Fisheries and hydrological assessments are ongoing. A partnering meeting was held in October 2020 at Sandy Lake Dam with MNDNR and USACE leadership in attendance. Fish surveys will continue into fiscal years 2023 with the analysis and report following in fiscal year 2023 and 2024.


The PAS Program was authorized by Section 22 of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1974 (Public Law 93‒251), as amended. Section 208 of WRDA 1992 amended WRDA 1974 to include eligible Native American Indian tribes as equivalent to a state.


The MNDNR is using work-in-kind (WIK) as 100% of its cost share.

Total Study:      $758,000
Federal:            $379,000
MNDNR:         $379,000

Federal Funding Breakdown:

FY20:                $  88,750
FY21:                $  83,750
FY22:               $ 103,750
FY23:               $ 103,750
FY24:               $   19,000