Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Four-walleye bag limit sparks harvest on Red

Red Lake Band’s fish-processing plant could
increase tribal demand, harvest

By Tim
Spielman
Associate Editor

Bemidji, Minn. – Double the fish, double the fishing. At least
so far, that’s been the case on the sport-fisherman side of Upper
Red Lake.

In mid-July, based on the allowable walleye catch and the
poundage already caught, DNR officials increased the walleye bag
limit from two to four. A protected 17- to 26-inch slot (with one
fish over 26 inches allowed in possession) remained in place.

Gary Barnard, DNR area Fisheries supervisor in Bemidji, said
this week that July fishing pressure, based on creel surveys, was
twice that of last year, when the walleye limit was two.

Some speculate that the increased walleye limit for Upper Red,
coupled with a tightened slot for Lake Mille Lacs, are factors
leading to increased fishing pressure on Upper Red, in Beltrami
County. Mille Lacs anglers who’d been highly successful most of the
summer, leading to a harvest that was closing in on the
sport-angler allotment, now are allowed to keep fish only between
14 and 16 inches, with one over 28 inches allowed. Anglers
previously had been allowed four fish under 20 inches (one over 28
inches allowed). It was the first mid-season slot change on the
lake since 2001.

Barnard said July ’07 fishing pressure was about 12,000 fishing
hours, based on creel survey information. Last year, sport anglers
spent an estimated 6,000 hours on Upper Red.

Catch rates, he said, ‘bounced back up a bit, too.’ Still,
state-licensed anglers still are far below what would be allowed
during the open-water season harvest. Barnard said total kill stood
at about 28,500 pounds this week; anglers are allowed up to 84,000
pounds of walleyes during the summer. The yearly allotment is more
than 90,000 pounds, which includes ice-fishing harvest.

Tribal harvest, too, is far below what’s allowed this year, said
Al Pemberton, director of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa’s
Department of Natural Resources. Since the beginning of the year,
tribal members have harvested – by hook and line, with a 10-fish
limit and 18- to 28-inch slot – about 80,000 pounds of walleyes,
less than 10 percent of their allowable harvest.

But that could change quickly if the tribe’s planned
fish-processing plant in Redby becomes operational – something
expected to take place in the near future, Pemberton said.

‘It’s getting close, but it’s taking longer than we thought it
would,’ he said. A formerly used facility was in need of upgrades,
with much of those being aided by a $1 million grant from the
Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. More grant money might be
available, if needed, Pemberton said.

Causes for delayed operation run from upgrading cooling systems
to new USDA food-processing requirements – and associated
equipment, he said. The facility could employ 20 to 30 people, and
Pemberton said inquiries about fish availability have been
brisk.

‘We’ve been getting calls from everybody, but it’s a work in
progress,’ he said.

Walleyes and other fish processed at the facility will be sold
to a variety of outlets, including restaurants. It also will be
sold by a tribal enterprise – Red Lake Nation Foods – that also
markets items like wild rice and jellies and jams.

Pemberton said once the facility is operating, demand likely
will lead to increased walleye-fishing efforts. For now, hook and
line will remain the method of take, though netting of fish is
possible in the future. Or, daily limits via hook and line could be
bumped up.

‘If we do (use nets) Š we’ll use live-trap stuff (so that
spawning-size females can be released),’ he said.

Things like increasing the bag limit or use of nets will be
determined by the Red Lake Tribal Council, with DNR input,
Pemberton said. Pemberton currently is a member of that
council.

Should the fish-processing plant be completed soon, Pemberton
expects tribal ice-angling will increase, too.

The tribe maintains treaty rights to fish all of Lower Red Lake
and the greater portion of Upper Red, 237,000 of the lake’s 285,000
total acres.

Mike Washenberger, owner of Dr. Tackle Sports near Red Lake,
said though fishing success has dropped off lately, he and other
retailers and resorters in the area saw a definite spike in
business when the limit changed to four walleyes.

Four walleyes also seems to be be making $3 per gallon gasoline
easier for anglers to swallow, Washenberger said.

‘There haven’t been too many complaints (about gas, after the
fish-limit increase),’ he said. ‘When it was a two-fish limit,
there were a lot of comments about coming up here for just two
fish.’

Washenberger said, because of the low walleye take by sport
anglers thus far and the way a four-fish bag has been a positive
influence on area economics, he and other in the area are lobbying
the DNR to not only continue the four-fish bag when the ‘new’
harvest season rolls around Dec. 1, but also to extend the walleye
season (to mid-April) and allow fish houses to remain on the ice
longer – similar to the way the rules apply on Lake of the
Woods.

After all, Washenberger says, Red Lake is in the same area as
Lake of the Woods, and further, like Lake of the Woods, is a shared
‘border water’ with a separate nation – in this case, the Red Lake
Band instead of Canada. He said when houses were pulled from the
ice last year, there remained about 3 feet of ice in most
locations.

Other Red Lake notes

The DNR’s Barnard said he’s heard from some Red Lake anglers
that walleyes coming from the lake, or, more aptly, rivers
connected to the lake, have been thin, perhaps underfed. Barnard
said fisheries crews have noticed the same thing.

‘We’ve observed some skinny-looking fish in the Tamarac River,’
he said. ‘But out in the lake the fish seem to be in much better
condition. So we’re not sure what’s going on.’

Barnard said fisheries crews have observed plenty of walleye
forage in the lake – from young perch to shiners to bloodworms.
Shoreline seining for walleyes also allows crews to see what the
fish are eating. He said ideally, perch numbers could be higher,
and have been impacted by the walleye introduction to the lake that
began in 1999, following depletion of the lake’s walleye by
commercial fishing endeavors and overfishing by sport anglers.

‘Certainly, (walleye health) is something we’re watching,’
Barnard said.

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