New fishing reg proposals, review of old ones on table

Eight public meetings slated to discuss proposals

St. Paul — It’s that time of the year when the DNR publicly explores potential experimental fishing regulations to tweak things for the better and revisits this year’s cycle of previously implemented changes (typically those that were implemented 10 years ago).

Meetings will be held regarding the fishing regulations on 14 lakes and three rivers around the state in September and October, the first kicking off Sept. 19 in Lanesboro, where three stream sections are being proposed for new catch-and-release trout regulations, creating more trout-angling opportunity.

“A couple are existing rules that we are coming back around on,” said Al Stevens, the DNR’s fisheries program consultant. “A couple are new proposals.”

The DNR regularly reviews both special and experimental regulations. Experimental regulations typically last for 10 to 15 years, then come back up for evaluation along with a public meetings, where public input is gathered to determine whether they should be extended, modified, or dropped. This year, there’s a mix of all of those three outcomes, as well as a few new proposals.

In the case of those three southeastern Minnesota trout streams – including segments inside city limits of the South Branch of the Root River, Spring Valley Creek, and Mill Creek – it’s a matter of additional opportunity, expanding on the success of fall, catch-and-release-only trout fishing that was opened up on state parks in southeastern Minnesota.

“That state reg has been very popular,” said Ron Benjamin, the DNR’s Lanesboro area fisheries supervisor.

But care was taken not to create waves in an area where there are public easements held on privately owned stream front, where opening up fall fishing could create conflicts with hunters. So the expanded opportunity is being limited to land within city limits to avoid problems.

“We are trying to be sensitive to private landowners who don’t want people walking around out there when they are hunting,” Benjamin said.

Another of the more prominent proposals involves Lake Vermilion in St. Louis County, where a separate public process regarding the lake’s management plan is in the works.

Managers there are mulling a regulations tweak that likely would lead to increased walleye harvest on the large, Canadian Shield lake. In the case of Vermilion, it’s a review of existing walleye regs that have been tweaked a few times before via this experimental and special regulations process, said Edie Evarts, the DNR’s Tower area fisheries supervisor.

Creel surveys conducted in 2014 and 2015 show that harvest was around 40,000 and 45,000 pounds of walleyes, respectively, while the safe allowable harvest is 65,000 pounds.

The first slot regulation was put in place in 2006, a 17- to 26-inch slot, and then a 18- to 26-inch slot in 2012 following public comment. All along, there’s been concern regarding the west end of the lake’s availability of harvest-size fish. The regs seem to be responsible for an increased number of larger walleyes on the east side of the lake, Evarts said, an aspect that has been improved by the regulations, though the intent on that front was to protect the spawning stock in the lake, “not necessarily create a trophy fishery,” she said.

While the DNR says the fishery has improved because of the regulations, it’s still difficult to catch “keeper” walleyes because on this side of the lake walleyes grow faster and past the slot, she said, which is why another tweak is being proposed, with three different regulations having been modeled, as well as keeping things the same still an option.

Those three options include an 18- to 22-inch slot, a 20- to 26-inch slot, and one fish over 18 inches.

“For us, there is an ability to allow more harvest,” she said. “But we still have to be careful. We do have a lot of happy anglers, so we don’t want to change it too much.”

Joe Stewig, the DNR’s Sauk Rapids area fisheries supervisor, will be at the helm at three public meetings regarding Pleasant and Carnelian lakes in Stearns County, and Sugar Lake in Wright County. With Pleasant and Carnelian, experimental sunfish regulations were implemented in 1997, dropping the bag limits from 30 fish to 10 fish. There was public interest in 2006 to drop it from 10 fish down to five, all with the hopes of improving bluegill growth rates and size on those lakes.

“On Pleasant, we are starting to see the percentage of sunfish go from pretty much no fish over eight inches to about five to 10 percent over eight inches, and we have hybrids over 10 inches,” Stewig said.

On Carnelian, last year, he said bluegills over eight inches were seen for the first time in surveys of the lake. “I think there is enough information to make this regulation permanent,” he said, noting that if there is public sentiment against that notion, it would be considered.

But he hasn’t heard complaints about the small bag over the years, nor has he heard much negative regarding Sugar Lake, where both experimental crappie and northern pike regs are on the table.

In Cass County, new bag limits are being proposed for sunfish and black crappies on Little Webb and Moccasin lakes and sunfish on Lake Thirteen.

These small lakes are getting a lot of pressure, said Doug Schultz, the DNR’s Walker area fisheries supervisor, so what’s being proposed is dropping the statewide regulation of 20 fish down to five per day. Some of the interest started at the lake association level, which goes a long way toward implementing such regulations, Stevens said.

“In all three of these cases, I am expecting a majority will support the proposals,” Schultz said.

Last but not least, pike regulations on Bowstring, Sand, Little Sand, Portage, Birds Eye, Round, and Alice lakes and connected waters are under review. Those rules expanded the daily bag to nine fish and created a protected 22- to 36-inch slot in an effort to deal with a large abundance of smaller pike. Though improvements were slow to be realized at the five-year mark, size structure is starting to improve, Stevens said.

Call or write to local fisheries offices to comment about regulations proposals. Written or verbal comments will be accepted up to 10 days following a local meeting.
An open house regarding the proposals will be from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, at the DNR headquarters in St. Paul. Staff will take comments on any proposal through Monday, Oct. 10. Comment by email to or by calling (651) 259-5239.

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