Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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MN: Red Lake walleye fishery looking up

Good numbers of spawning walleyes

Bemidji, Minn. – DNR survey nets used to sample fish in Upper Red
Lake were considerably heavier this year, and for walleye anglers
who fish the state portion of the lake, that’s a good thing.

Gary Barnard, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Bemidji, said the
department conducts a year-round creel survey, as well as fall
gill-netting, which recently wrapped up with what Barnard said were
near-record numbers of walleyes netted.

“Things are looking excellent,” he said.

The walleye catch rate this year was about 45 fish per net, close
to double last year’s catch of about 24 per net, Barnard said,
adding that it’s difficult to compare that catch rate to other
state lakes. Upper Red is larger than most lakes, and given its
primarily flat bottom and shallow nature, is easier to net.

Barnard said the high net catch is in part attributable to high
catch of younger fish, those in the 11- to 12-inch size range.
There also were plenty in the 14- to 16-inch range, he added.

And, “There was a real nice mix of 19-, 20-, and 21-inch fish,” he
said. “Then it peeters out.”

While there’s a good population of spawning walleyes, Barnard said
there weren’t many real large fish that were caught in the test
nets.

But, he added, “We’re seeing plenty of mature females. Reproduction
certainly is not an issue up there.”

During the early 2000s, both Upper and Lower Red lakes (all of
Lower and a portion of Upper are fished only by Red Lake Chippewa
band members) were closed to walleye fishing so the lakes could
bounce back from previous overharvest. The state and tribe
aggressively stocked the lakes with walleyes during that time, and
Upper Red was reopened to state angler harvest in 2006.

“The recovery is definitely complete up there,” Barnard said this
week.

Tribal monitoring is ongoing yet this fall, according to Pat Brown,
Red Lake DNR fisheries director. But he, too, said early walleye
returns are good. Like Barnard, Brown said survey nets are pulling
lots of young fish this year.

“I think we’ll be in the same boat (as the Minnesota DNR, with
higher net catches),” Brown said. “There are a lot of young
fish.”

However, also in a tribal net was a 28-inch walleye, Brown said,
the first fish that size he’s seen since fishing and monitoring
resumed in recent years.

The allocation of walleyes for state and tribal members is based on
the acreage of the lakes managed by the state DNR and the tribe.
Walleye poundage targets have been relatively stable since 2007,
and this year the state DNR has a harvest target of 84,000 to
168,000 pounds of walleyes. The tribe’s allocation is 829,500
pounds. The harvest year begins Dec. 1.

Even with a good September bite, Barnard expects the state harvest
of walleyes to be on the lower end of the safe harvest range.

Meanwhile, Brown said the Red Lake tribal harvest thus far is at
about 350,000 pounds; he expects the final tally to be slightly
above last year’s harvest of 425,000 pounds.

Even with impressive net catches this summer, Barnard said he
expects walleye regulations to remain the same as recent years.
Beginning in December, there’s a protected slot of 17 to 26 inches,
with one over 26 inches allowed in possession. In June, to allow
anglers a better chance to keep fish, the slot is loosened to a
protected 20- to 26-inch slot.

The walleye bag limit is four fish.

Local bait proprietor Todd Mortenson, whose Mort’s Dock is located
off Hwy. 72 on the southern side of Upper Red, said the walleye
slot, while slow to catch on, has been successful.

“People don’t always like slot limits, but I think they’re paying
off for the overall health of the lake,” he said.

Winter fishing tends to put much more state angler pressure on fish
than does open-water fishing, according to Barnard – to the tune of
about 100,000 “angler hours” during open water compared with
600,000 to 800,000 hours on the ice.

“The big ‘sleeper’ (fish) house industry really has cranked up the
angler hours,” he said.

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