The Silence of an Underwater Lake

Text and photos by Lawrence Wade

Over the years, I have learned that our Minnesota lakes are filled with beauty. The silence of the underwater world;  the shapes and colors of fish; the sunlight dancing off the plants are all reasons to get in the water.

This year, due to the drought, many of my favorite places to snorkel are devoid of fish. Many of the photos that you will be seeing in this post were taken in previous years.

Photographing Minnesota fish can be challenging. I have stopped chasing them and now wait for them to adjust to me. Also, I try not to put my attention on a fish as I approach. If my ‘laser beam’ focuses on a fish, it is sure to swim off before I can get close.

I am going to call this snorkeling season “My Bluegill Summer” because 90% of the fish I saw were BG’s.  If I don’t chase a bluegill, it would usually come to me and  I have come to appreciate the unique patterning of each fish.

Crappie.     What a horrible name for such a beautiful fish!
I have not seen a crappie for two years. They are like winged angels in the water. Crappie like to hide in the weeds and try not to be seen.

Smallmouth Bass

The markings on a smallmouth bass are very beautiful. I have found them to be more curious than a largemouth bass.

Largemouth bass

This largemouth bass changed direction and made a pass close to me.


Whenever I see a walleye underwater, I have one thought:  a walleye filet on the grill. Fortunately for the fish that will not happen.

Painted Turtle

This photo was taken years ago. I remember getting nervous because the turtle swam so close to me. This summer,  I saw only one painted turtle and it immediately dove into the weeds to avoid me.


Every time I see a dogfish or bowfin, I feel like I have gone back 50 million years, because they are primitive fish that were alive during the time of the dinosaurs. In the winter, at the headwaters of Minnhaha Creek, I have noticed that dogfish can survive in low oxygen conditions while other fish die.


When you see a big fish like this, you know you are in the presence of a predator and that you are in ‘its world’, not yours. I’ll never forget the time  I was snorkeling and looked behind me and there was a large muskie following me about 6 feet away. I was thankful when it turned and left me.  If you look at the right jaw of the muskie in this photo,  you’ll see it has a scar where a fisherman caught and released it.

Softshell turtle

I saw one of these turtles this summer and it was feeding on algae. As soon as it saw me, the turtle rocketed away.

Northern Pike

Pike tend to rest on the bottom. The coloration is very camouflaged and can be difficult to see. I have been able to get quite close to them if I swim slowly and don’t go directly towards them. As soon as a pike thinks you see it, it darts out view.


Bullheads are really unusual fish to see. They have barbels (feelers) on the outside of their mouth to help them locate food. They don’t have scales and their body is covered with sensory organs. Also, don’t try to grab a bullhead because they have a venomous spine beside the dorsal and pectoral fins.

If a lake becomes polluted and there is a lack of oxygen, bullheads will be one of the last fish to survive.

Common Carp

While the bullhead has no scales, a carp has very large scales. Carp were introduced from Europe in the 1800’s.  They are bottom feeders and tend to uproot plants causing great damage to shallow lakes. I remember seeing a carp in Christmas Lake that I thought was a sea bass.It was huge.

water lily growing toward the surface

When you snorkel into a water lily patch, the green glow of sunlight shining through the lily pads is very surreal. It is a light like no other.

A bluegill in and around the water lilies.

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