Upper Red walleye anglers get a boost for spring season

Walleyes taken from Upper Red Lake just after opening weekend several years ago. Anglers fishing the northwestern Minnesota lake this open-water season will again be able to keep four walleyes. (Photo by Brian Peterson)

It could mean more time spent fishing on the lake. Probably not much more time, although finding a healthy walleye that’s not too healthy can take time, too.

Since Upper Red Lake returned to prominence as a walleye fishery a decade ago, daily bag limits have been a given. Day after day and year after year during the open-water season, anglers line up on pretty much the same stretch of water on the northeast end of the lake, fishing in about eight feet or so of muddy-red water. And day after day, most all of these anglers seem to limit out.

Some days it takes longer than others — last year, a group of anglers that, for the most part, has made a fishing trip to Upper Red an annual event since the return of the walleyes, limited-out in about two-and-a-half hours the first day out. The next day, it took quite a bit more doing for the five fishermen.

But those anglers were in no hurry — so they’ll appreciate changes this spring to that daily bag limit, both for more time spent on the lake and a heftier fish fry at day’s end.

Last year, that limit was three walleyes per angler daily, with one over 17 inches allowed — the same as this past winter, too. On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced that it’s upping the bag limit to four walleyes this spring, also with one over 17 inches allowed in the mix. The new regs are effective starting with the walleye fishing opener Saturday, May 13.

“Harvest under the three-fish bag limit resulted in approximately 109,000 pounds for the winter season,” Gary Barnard, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Bemidji, said in the DNR release. “There is still room within the target harvest range to allow an additional fish this spring.

“The new harvest plan recommends a more aggressive approach when walleye spawning stock is in surplus, as it currently is,” Barnard added. “The extra fish allowed by the daily bag limit will increase open-water harvest some, and allowing one fish over 17 inches meets our harvest plan objectives by spreading harvest over a wide range of sizes and removing some of the surplus spawning stock.”

While the walleye numbers at Upper Red are still solid, they’re not quite as off-the-charts as they were, say, just a few years ago. In the 2012-13 fishing season, for example, anglers could keep four walleyes up to 20 inches, with one larger than 26 inches allowed.

Rich Jahner with a nice Upper Red walleye taken during the 2016 spring season. (Brian Peterson photo)

Still, a steady bite over the last decade has kept anglers coming back.

“I am constantly amazed at how the fishery has been able to handle the incredible pressure I see — boat after boat after boat, in line as far as you can see in either direction, everyone catching fish,” Rich Jahner, a coach and instructor at Bemidji State University and the organizer of the aforementioned annual trip of fishing friends, said after last year’s outing. “Some years we struggled mightily to find keepers as nearly all the walleyes we landed were too big and in the (protected) slot. Some years, when the wind would pick up, we’d simply go in the river and they’d be in there stacked up.

“And the fishing was insane.”

Categories: News, Walleye

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