Beginning March 1, fewer keeper walleyes, saugers in spring, winter under Lake of the Woods proposal

(Photo by Brian Peterson)

There may not be a bigger draw for walleye/sauger fishing in the region in the spring and winter than far-northern Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods.

In the spring, after Minnesota’s inland waters have closed for the season for the species, anglers flock to the lake to enjoy the border water’s extended season, then crowd the adjoining Rainy River at ice-out, with the draw being trophy walleyes that typically congregate there that time each year.

And during the winter, walleye and sauger fishing seems to get better and better with each year. So to help ensure that continues – particularly for saugers – changes could be coming to the fishery via a new draft management plan the Minnesota DNR unveiled recently that is up for public comment through July 11.

The proposed changes would reduce the aggregate limit of walleye and sauger in the winter to align with the summer regulations on Lake of the Woods, and make spring angling on the Rainy River catch-and-release for walleye and sauger, the DNR said in a news release Monday, June 18. The changes would go into effect starting March 1, 2019, the DNR said in the release.

“We recently went through a public process of updating the Lake of the Woods Fisheries Management Plan and identified several potential areas of concern with regard to current levels of harvest,” Phil Talmage, Baudette fisheries supervisor, said in the release. “That’s why we’re discussing these potential changes.”

A story on the Lake of the Woods Tourism website last week offered more details on the possible changes, first noted by the DNR in a news release Monday, June 11:

“For the spring fishing season on Four Mile Bay and the Rainy River that lasts each year from March 1-April 14, the current limit for walleyes/saugers is a combined limit of two fish under 19.5 inches. The proposed regulation will call for simply catch-and-release only, eliminating the ability to keep two fish. The reason is during the electrofishing that happens during the spawn, the DNR is seeing fewer and fewer male walleyes. As the only fish allowed to be kept during the spring fishing are under 19.5 inches, a good (number) of these fish are mature male walleyes. Hence, the change increases the chances for successful spawning activity. In addition, it is noted through surveys, most anglers fish the spring season for the chance at catching big walleyes, the tradition of the spring season, potential numbers of fish and the opportunity to get their boats in the water for the first time.

“The second proposed regulation change has to do with the winter fishing. Currently, the winter regulation for walleyes and saugers is a combined limit of eight fish, in which up to four may be walleyes. The proposed regulation will change the winter regulation to the same as the open-water regulation for the lake, which is a combined limit of six fish, in which up to four may be walleyes. Any fish within 19.5-28 inches must be released. One fish per day over 28 inches may be kept. The reason for the change has to do with monitoring the estimated population of saugers in the lake vs. the results from creel surveys, which take into account estimated harvest levels and hours fished. The sauger population is healthy and holding its own, but with 2 million angling hours this past winter season as well as the year before, this is an effort to stay ahead of the curve to ensure continued healthy sauger numbers.”

The plan incorporates the recommendations of the 14-member Lake of the Woods Fisheries Input Group, which has met five times since December 2017, the DNR said in last week’s release. According to the release, long-term sustainability was at the forefront of the group’s discussions – input group members were concerned about the growth in winter angling pressure on Lake of the Woods and encouraged the DNR to continue to support the creel surveys in order to monitor fishing pressure over time.

The input group also expressed concerns about system change from things like invasive species and recommended that the DNR continue to study the potential impact of invasive species on the sustainability of the fishery, the release said.

Public comments on the plan will be accepted through Monday, July 11, and online at mndnr.gov/lakeofthewoods. Paper questionnaires also are available at the DNR’s Baudette Area Fisheries Office, 204 Main St. East in Baudette. Comments will be reviewed and considered in July and August, and the final plan will be completed in September, the release said.

Also recommended, according to the Lake of the Woods Tourism story: Conduct a survey of lake sturgeon tag purchasers to determine if the regulation of allowing lake sturgeon over 75 inches is desirable or if the state’s new catch-and-release record program replaces that need; and addressing the current regulation of “quick-strike rigs” to allow rigs up to 18 inches to be acceptable.

Categories: News, Walleye

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