MN: DNR aims to protect pike in Upper Red
Bemidji, Minn. – The DNR is taking a step toward protecting the
largest northern pike in Upper Red Lake.
Beginning with next year’s walleye opener – May 14 – the
protected slot limit will increase to 26 to 44 inches, which means
all fish within that slot must be released immediately.
The current protected slot, which will remain in place through
this winter, is 26 to 40 inches. Local businesses and other people
in the area support – and pushed for – the expanded protected slot,
said Gary Barnard, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Bemidji.
“This is probably one of the premier pike fisheries in the
state,” he said. “It’s nice to see the local people up there
recognizing that and wanting to protect it.”
The current protected slot has been in place on Upper Red since
it reopened for walleye fishing in 2006.
Fishermen were beginning to notice the lake’s pike fishery
during the years when walleye fishing was closed and crappie
fishing was booming. There was interest at that time in
establishing a pike regulation, but the DNR opted not to do so,
given the lake already was closed for walleye fishing.
“To do something for pike at that point would have been
overstepping and overly restrictive,” Barnard said.
DNR officials decided to put the current protected slot in place
when the walleye fishery re-opened, in part because they figured
fishing pressure on pike would intensify.
“It worked really well to put that on at the same time we opened
walleye fishing,” he said.
But in the years since the pike regulation has been in place,
there’s been a perception that a lot of the larger pike are being
harvested, Barnard said. DNR creel surveys indicate anglers keep
about 20 percent of the pike longer than 40 inches, and release
about 80 percent.
“Even with a 20-percent harvest rate, it probably had a bigger
impact than that because some of those fish were caught multiple
times,” Barnard said.
After local businesses and others began lobbying the DNR to
widen the protected slot, the agency asked anglers during a creel
survey last year if they would support such a move, and the
feedback was positive, he said.
The pike population in Red is a low-density one, but the forage
base – whitefish, suckers, perch, and shiners – is another reason
why fish there grow to such large sizes.
“It’s not uncommon to catch fish over 40 inches up there, and
that’s pretty unique,” Barnard said. “In most lakes, the difference
between 40 and 44 inches (at the top end of a protected slot)
wouldn’t matter a bit. In Red Lake, it does.
“It’s going to pretty much be a catch and release fishery up
there for those big pike,” he said.
Ice fishermen should note the walleye regulation on Upper Red
changed as of Dec. 1.
The slot reverted back to a 17- to 26-inch protected slot limit.
The regulation is in place through the winter walleye season.
The daily and possession limit remains four fish, with only one
fish more than 26 inches allowed.