Upper Red harvest double last summer’s total

Mille Lacs walleye anglers also doing somewhat better than last
year

Bemidji, Minn. – It’s amazing the difference a year and some new
rules can make. State-licensed anglers fishing Upper Red Lake this
year already have harvested more than twice the walleyes they did
during the entire open-water season last year. To date, they’ve
harvested 86,000 pounds of walleyes this spring and summer,
compared with about 40,000 pounds last summer.

That increase is attributable to a number of things, most
notably a four-fish limit and a protected slot that shrunk in
mid-June, according to Gary Barnard, DNR area fisheries supervisor
in Bemidji.

Last year, Upper Red anglers were allowed a three-fish limit and
a protected 17- to 26-inch slot. That slot was in place this winter
when the “harvest year” began in December, as was the three-fish
limit. But the limit increased to four fish for the May 9 opener,
and the protected slot became 20 to 26 inches on June 15.

Combined with winter harvest, the total take on Upper Red now
stands at about 138,000 pounds, Barnard said. The safe allowable
harvest level is 168,000 pounds, and the cap that would result in a
closure of the fishery is 240,000 pounds.

“We’re a long way from the cap,” Barnard said.

While it’s doubtful that cap would be reached, it’s possible the
safe harvest level could be reached for the first time since the
state portion of Upper Red was re-opened to walleye angling in
2006. Should harvest reach 168,000 pounds, the winter limit would
return to three walleyes; otherwise, the current limit will remain
in place, with a return to the 17- to 26-inch slot, Barnard
said.

A late spring extended the period of productive fishing on Upper
Red, he said. And the June rule change further spurred angling
effort.

“But now it’s slowed,” Barnard said earlier this week. “The fish
are getting harder to catch (as they follow scattered prey).

“I expect we’ll end up within the safe harvest level. But we’ll
see how July plays out.”

In the past, state anglers have harvested about half the safe
harvest level, which has remained at 168,000 pounds since the
fishery re-opened. This year, winter and summer seasons have
resulted in a catch that’s so far about 82 percent of the safe
harvest level.

All things being equal, winter walleye anglers usually
outperform their summer counterparts, Barnard said, primarily
because of the tail-off in summer angling, and the fact that winter
anglers are less susceptible to weather events.

“The lake is really vulnerable to wind,” he said. Good weather
this spring and summer led to few days when waves kept anglers off
the lake.

The slot change this June was a spring-board to continued high
angling activity, Barnard said.

“The pressure and harvest really jumped,” he said. “Fishing
pressure almost doubled.”

Further, the average size of fish kept by anglers increased
dramatically, from an average of about a pound prior to the slot
change, to about 11/2 pounds thereafter, Barnard said.

The early June harvest was about 8,000 pounds; the late June
take was about 42,000 pounds, he said.

“The (20- to 26-inch) slot was really attractive to anglers,” he
said.

The new slot also served to reduce release mortality, Barnard
said. It’s estimated that release mortality is at about 2,600
pounds, or about 3 percent of those returned to the water. About
285,000 pounds of walleyes have been released, he said.

While a number of 17- to 19-inch fish now are being harvested,
livewells continue to hold quite a few smaller fish, Barnard
said.

“It’s pretty encouraging to see a lot of 11- to 12-inch fish
being caught, as well,” he said. “There are good year-classes
coming up.”

While walleye fishing can rebound in the late summer and fall,
Barnard said angler pressure usually remains light on Upper
Red.

“This year it will be interesting to see what the (new) slot
will do (to angler pressure),” he said, adding that there’s been
more early July angling pressure than in past years.

Barnard said the safe harvest level will remain at 168,000
pounds on the state’s portion of Upper Red unless the spawning
stock biomass decreases considerably. Given state angler harvest,
this year will be a telling one regarding Upper Red regs.

“This will be the first time we’ll be close to the safe harvest
level,” he said. “We have to get there (to the safe harvest level)
and see how the lake handles the harvest.”

Like state anglers, the safe harvest level for the Red Lake
Chippewa Band’s portion of Upper Red and Lower Red is 31/2 pounds
of walleyes per acre. The band’s safe harvest level is about
820,000 pounds of walleyes.

Barnard said until this week tribal anglers had caught walleyes
via hook and line for the fish-processing plant the band operates.
With slower fishing and a need to keep the plant operating, limited
tribal netting will now begin.

Mille Lacs

For Lake Mille Lacs anglers, it’s been a mix of good and bad,
according to Tom Jones, DNR large lake specialist in Aitkin.

The total walleye kill this year for the 130,000-acre lake has
been 76,000 pounds, he said, with the actual harvest now at 65,000
pounds. The state angler allowable harvest this year was 414,500
pounds.

Jones said about 320,000 pounds of walleyes have been released
this year on Mille Lacs; 280,000 pounds were released all of last
year.

“Fishing isn’t terrible, but pressure has been kind of low,” he
said.

Actually, creel surveys have showed steadily increasing success
for walleye anglers on the lake. The recently completed “third time
period” for the lake indicated a catch rate of .4 walleyes per
hour. That’s double the first-period rate of .2 fish per hour, and
an increase from the second period rate of .3 fish per hour.

“Fishing has been getting better all year,” Jones said, adding
that early season cold fronts may have slowed angling success.

Jones said there’s still an ample supply of perch in the lake,
which in part reduces walleye-fishing success. But the perch size
structure is increasing, which means there are smaller, hungrier
walleyes available for anglers.

“We can’t have a lot of perch every year forever,” he said.

Jones said it’s good to see several younger walleyes now being
caught.

“Either there are a whole lot of them, or there’s not much food
for them,” he said.

The Mille Lacs bag limit this year is four walleyes. There’s
also a protected 18- to 28-inch slot in place.

Members of Ojibwe bands in Minnesota (Mille Lacs and Fond du
Lac) and six in Wisconsin netted and speared just over 100,000
pounds of walleyes this year; their allocation is about 126,500
pounds. Last year, the bands harvested about 90,000 pounds of
walleyes.

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