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

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Walleye kill dives on Red

Bemidji, Minn. – Late June in recent years has been a busy time
on Upper Red Lake. But this year, things were a little different,
officials say.

On June 15, the protected walleye slot changed, allowing anglers
to keep fish up to 20 inches (with one over 26 inches allowed in
possession). Previously, the slot was 17 to 26 inches. (The bag
limit remained four fish, with one walleye over 26 inches allowed
in possession.)

But from mid-June till the end of the month, state-licensed
anglers on Upper Red in northern Minnesota harvested just 6,400
pounds of walleyes, far off the pace of a year ago, when 42,000
pounds of fish were harvested.

“It was down considerably,” said Gary Barnard, DNR area
fisheries supervisor in Bemidji.

“There were a number of things in play,” he said. Windy
conditions kept anglers off the water, the catch rates were down,
and the size of the fish declined from 2009. Those things, combined
with the fact that word likely spread about the
less-than-spectacular fishing, reduced angling pressure this
year.

Last year during late June, Barnard said, Upper Red anglers had
“ideal” fishing conditions.

Through the end of June, state angler catch from Upper Red (the
season began Dec. 1) was 97,000 pounds of walleyes, or about 58
percent of the allowed state harvest of 168,000 pounds. Last year,
the harvest at this time was closer to 80 percent of the quota.

With just the late summer and early fall months remaining,
Barnard doesn’t see a chance the walleye take will increase
greatly.

“I doubt we’ll get close to it at this point,” he said of the
quota.

Logic would dictate that with a less restrictive slot, the
average size of fish harvested would in turn increase; however,
that wasn’t the case this year.

Barnard said even during the two-week period following the slot
adjustment, the average size of harvested walleyes remained less
than a pound. Last year during that same period, walleyes harvested
averaged about 1.5 pounds.

The catch rate, too, was much better last year, at 1.28 walleyes
per angling hour. This year, that average was just .66 per
hour.

Band take

Red Lake Band of Chippewa members this year have found
themselves much in the same boat as state anglers.

Pat Brown, Red Lake DNR fisheries program director, said tribal
hook-and-line anglers, as well as netters, had taken only about
150,000 pounds of walleyes as of last week. The tribe’s quota (from
all of Lower and part of Upper Red lakes) for this year (which runs
the same as the state season) was 829,500 pounds this year.

Last year’s total harvest was about 625,000 pounds, Brown said.
Tribal fishermen won’t near that number this year, he said. Hook
and line angling is limited this time of year, and three crews of
netters are bringing in an average of about 1,000 pounds of
walleyes each day (aside from days when poor weather conditions
force them from the lake).

But it’s not the open-water season that’s limited tribal
harvest; Brown said the final weeks of ice fishing typically are
when tribal anglers are most productive. An early spring ended the
prospect this year.

“It was one of the earliest ice-outs ever on Lower Red – it was
extremely early,” he said. “It basically killed us.”

This year’s winter harvest by tribal members was between 40,000
and 50,000 pounds of walleyes, Brown said. Last year, winter
anglers took nearly 300,000 pounds.

Tribal hook-and-line anglers fished Lower Red and the band’s
portion of Upper Red in May and June; netting crews began fishing
Red about mid June, he said.

Nearly all the fishing occurs in Lower Red, where Brown said
netters recently had to move to find fish that had migrated to
deeper water. Little tribal angling is done in band waters of Upper
Red, in part because of the distance from the band’s fish
factory.

Overall, Brown said, “The fish look great. People have
complained about not catching fish, but the forage base is
good.”

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