DNR unveils new LotWs regulation

Staff Writer

Baudette, Minn. Ice anglers traveling to Lake of the Woods this
winter will fish under a new set of regulations.

DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam gave his approval last Wednesday
on new rules that will reduce the number of walleyes that may be
kept and initiate a new protected slot in order to keep quality
fishing intact at Lake of the Woods.

The regulations are the result of a grassroots movement
involving resort owners, anglers, and local DNR fisheries experts
who became concerned with increasing fishing pressure, especially
during the winter months, and the negative effect it could have on
the future of this prolific walleye fishery.

Under the new regulations, which will go into effect Dec. 1,
anglers will be allowed a daily limit of four walleyes all year.
Currently, six walleyes may be kept. In addition, anglers will now
have to release all walleyes between 19.5 inches and 28 inches
throughout the year. One walleye over 28 inches may still be kept
in a four-fish limit.

From Dec. 1 through April 14, a combination of eight
walleye/sauger may be kept, only four of which may be walleyes.
From the 2005 fishing opener through November’s end, the
combination walleye/sauger limit will be reduced to six, four of
which can be walleyes.

On the Rainy River, the two walleye or sauger limit will remain
intact with all fish larger than 19.5 inches being released during
the spring season. The only change there is that this two-fish
limit now includes the Four Mile Bay area.

The changes come on the heels of several well-attended public
input meetings and a general public comment period that showed
strong support. According to Tom Heinrich, DNR large lake
specialist in Baudette, 60 percent of the comments supported every
single component of the new regulations.

“We had strong support for all the proposed changes,” Heinrich
said. “While not everyone supported each individual aspect, the
overall response was favorable.”

Paul Arnesen of Arnesen’s Rocky Point Resort has been a charter
captain on Lake of the Woods since 1990. It’s his belief that the
quality of the fishing experience is far more important to most
anglers than the amount of fish they can take home.

With increased fishing pressure in recent years, Arnesen thinks
the time for a change is now. By his assessment, making regulation
changes at this point guarantees that quality fishing experience
down the road.

“If a person can fish on Lake of the Woods, have a quality
experience, have a meal of fish here, and take a few fish home, I
believe they will leave happy and return to the area,” Arnesen
said. “The new limits will allow people to fulfill these terms and
protect the lake so it will continue to be a world-class fishery in
the years to come.”

Henry Drewes, DNR regional fisheries manager in Bemidji, agrees
that the time was now for a change. He says many anglers and resort
owners are afraid of not experiencing the quality angling down the
road that they are now.

Drewes points to increased fishing pressure and the strong
harvest that accompanies it as potential problems, and ultimately
negative consequences in future years. While the fishing remains
favorable now, a proactive approach will only make the fishery more
healthy, by his assessment.

“The writing is on the wall, so now is the time for a change,”
Drewes said. “I’m encouraged with the decision because it will
change the harvest and keep quality fishing intact.”

Not everyone agrees. Several resort owners showed their
opposition to the new plan. While all agree that changes had to be
made, many say the new regulations are too drastic and biologically
have limited merit.

Nick Painovich of Zippel Bay Resort is one businessman who
thinks the regulations went overboard. Painovich believes the
fishery is way too healthy for the slot put in place. He worries
that the fishery will be out of balance and that forage could be
limited in future years with so many fish within the slot returned
to the lake.

“Plain and simple, I feel the regulation is too extreme,”
Painovich said. “Lowering the limit during the winter months was
fine, but the summer worries me.”

Painovich would have liked to have seen the summer limit remain
at six walleyes. Since there’s less pressure during the summer
months and the fact that DNR data shows a walleye population that’s
up 25 percent for the 10-year average, Painovich believes a
six-walleye limit during the open-water season could have been
sustainable.

“We’re all interested in doing what’s good for the lake, but the
lake isn’t in a state of decline,” he said. “I just don’t want Lake
of the Woods to be another mismanaged fishery.”

Drewes said the best way to maintain the quality fishery is
under the new plan and time will prove it.

“When we look back at this in 10 years, I’m very confident it
will be a good decision,” he said.

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