Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Changes to pike, muskie regulations OK’d by NRC

Lansing — State officials approved changes to pike and muskie regulations that they say will enable the DNR to better manage pike for specific lake conditions, and will protect broodstock and remnant populations of Great Lakes muskies.

The Natural Resources Commission gave unanimous  approval Sept. 12 to recommendations by DNR officials to change pike regulations on numerous lakes to fit into one of three harvest size restriction categories, based on each lake’s conditions relative to pike production.

The regulations include a general 24-inch minimum size limit, a 24- to 34-inch slot limit restriction, and no minimum size limit with only one fish over 24 inches. The daily bag limit for pike remains five fish on the no-minimum-size-limit lakes and two on all others.

DNR officials developed the pike-management strategy with input from the public and angling groups last year, and based its recommendations on lake assessments conducted since then.

Lakes with a high abundance of pike 24 inches or smaller have a limited ability to grow big pike, and managers will employ a no-minimum-size-limit regulation with only one fish over 24 inches for those lakes, Nick Popoff, DNR aquatic species and regulatory affairs unit manager, told Michigan Outdoor News.

“Typically these lakes don’t have the ability to grow large pike,” Popoff said, but resource managers limited the harvest of larger fish “to see if we can grow a few over the 24-inch size limit.”

The NRC moved 15 lakes into the no-minimum-size category: Chief Lake in Manistee County; Horsehead Lake in Mecosta County; Crystal Lake in Montcalm County; Cut River and Houghton Lake in Roscommon County; Diamond, Nichols, and Ryerson lakes in Newaygo County; and Beals, Benway, Ellsworth, Hanley, Scotts, St. Clair, and Wilson lakes in Antrim County.

NRC officials moved three Upper Peninsula lakes from the no-minimum-size-limit category to the protected slot limit: Michigamme Reservoir and Peavy Pond in Iron County, and Schlatter Lake in Keweenaw County. They also implemented the slot limit for Iron and Sunset lakes in Iron County, and Carney Lake in Dickenson County.

Popoff said the slot limit is designed to “protect those fish in the 24- to 34-inch slot” on lakes with the capacity to grow bigger fish. “The protected slot is used to try to balance the size structure of the northern pike population,” he said.

As for muskies, state officials imposed a 50-inch size limit for Big Bear Lake in Otsego County – the DNR’s broodstock lake for Great Lakes muskies. They shortened the season on Big Bear Lake, as well, to run from the last Saturday in April to Nov. 30. NRC officials also approved a 46-inch harvest restriction for muskies in Barry County’s Gun Lake, which contains a remnant population of Great Lakes muskies, a strain DNR officials will rely on heavily for stocking.

The more restrictive size limits are designed to protect the Great Lakes strain, while still allowing anglers to keep a trophy fish if they happen to catch one, Popoff said.

Will Schultz, board member and past president of the Michigan Muskie Alliance, took part in the steering committee that came up with the more focused pike and muskie regulations. He believes the new regulations give managers more options than in the past, and allow them to tailor management strategies to best fit each lake. The steering committee also recommended a one-muskie-per-season limit, which was approved last year.

“We spent a lot of time on deciding what options would be best” for pike, said Schultz, adding that many if not most MMA members target both species. “What they have now will fit a wider variety of lakes.”

Protecting Great Lakes muskie populations is also important to MMA members, so it makes sense to limit the take of big fish in waters where they’re doing well.

Natural reproduction of Great Lakes muskies documented in Gun Lake, in particular, makes it quite unique, Schultz said.

“It’s the only inland lake or river in southern Michigan (natural reproduction) has been confirmed in,” he said.

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