Bigger muskie limit, hammerhandles among topics at Fisheries Roundtable
St. Paul — The Internet has changed the way people fish and has broadcast secret spots to the world. That was the impetus that John Underhill gave for suggesting Minnesota raise the minimum size limit on muskies.
Underhill’s suggestion was just one of several topics that came up during the DNR Fisheries Roundtable last Friday, when representatives from four committees, each centered around a different fish species, gave short presentations.
Underhill, who along with being a member of the committee that looks at pike and muskie issues is a co-chair of the Minnesota Muskie Alliance, suggested that the state’s 48-inch minimum on muskellunge is not enough to protect the state’s trophy fishery.
“There’s big fish coming out of the lakes being harvested,” Underhill said.
He said pictures of trophy fish appear online, along with locations, and it’s drawing anglers from far and wide.
“Those fish are vulnerable,” said Underhill, who suggested the DNR expand the minimum size to 56 inches.
That would turn muskies into an almost complete catch-and-release fishery, though a state record fish likely would exceed 56 inches.
Getting a handle on hammerhandles
Underhill also mentioned a push to encourage anglers to keep more northern pike under 22 inches. An overabundance of small pike has been associated with low walleye numbers.
“We need a tool to control hammerhandle pike,” Underhill said.
Underhill said the DNR should consider allowing anglers to take an additional six pike under 22 inches, allowing them to keep as many as nine fish, on those lakes with too many undersized pike.
“Some guys are saying, let’s take as many as we want under that size on certain lakes,” he said.
But it’s a problem the DNR has tried to deal with before, with most anglers unwilling or unmotivated to keep the small northerns. It was suggested the DNR do more to promote the harvest of small northerns, including tutorials on removing the Y-bones and pickling the fish.
Natural walleyes a smaller factor?
Barry Chouinard, a member of the walleye committee, mentioned a study that’s trying to determine how much of a role stocked walleyes have on the population of catchable-sized walleyes on four lakes (Woman, Vemillion, Winnibigoshish and Otter Tail).
Chouinard said the study was started in 2008.
“In waters they harvest eggs out of, there is a requirement to return 10 percent back as fry,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been doing for 50 years, but it’ never been looked at. Eventually the measure is what is really contributing to a catchable size walleye.”
With five years of data, a picture is starting to develop, and Chouinard said the early results are surprising.
“Maybe the putback fish are contributing a little bit more to the population that results in catchable fish than natural reproduction,” he said. “Maybe our natural reproduction is not as good as what we thought it was.”
Ban flathead fishing in winter?
Steve DeMars, a member of the catfish committee, said the committee supports a proposed rule change that would close flathead catfish season during the winter.
An open comment period on that administrative rule change closes Feb. 11.
“They stack up like cord wood, and if somebody can get on one of those, you can really drag them out of there,” DeMars said.
The concern is that the fish, which not only are concentrated but also lethargic in cold weather, could be overharvested.
Legalize casting nets?
DeMars said his committee is also interested in legalizing the use of casting nets, which are the only effective way to catch gizzard shad on the St. Croix, Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.
The fish, which many catfish species gorge on, are abundant in those streams, and catfish anglers would like to use them as bait.
“They don’t hit a hook and line,” DeMars said.
DeMars said the committee is working out details that would reduce the risk of invasive species from being spread, with the Mississippi and St. Croix having Asian carp present. Since young Asian carp and gizzard shad look similar, there will likely be concerns that collected bait could be a possible pathway for the invasive fish to spread to other waters.
“We are looking at developing some risk management controls (to reduce the risk),” DeMars said, acknowledging it may be a long shot. “We aren’t sure it’s going to get heard by anybody.”