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Sunday, April 14th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Sunday, April 14th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Public invited to comment on Lake of the Woods fisheries management plan updates

Some of the more popular species anglers target when visiting Lake of the Woods include walleye, sauger, yellow perch, lake sturgeon and northern pike. (Photo courtesy of Vexilar)

Baudette, Minn. — The state DNR last week began soliciting public participation in a process to update the agency’s fisheries management plan for Lake of the Woods, situated on the Canada border.

According to the DNR, the plan for the lake, which includes 300,000-plus acres within Minnesota, last was updated in 2018.

“The updated plan,” a DNR news release states, “will be used to guide management of Lake of the Woods fish populations. It will include management goals, objectives, and strategies for the lake for the next five years.”

The DNR release says an online scoping questionnaire is available on the Lake of the Woods webpage (www.mndnr.gov/lakeofthewoods) through Friday, March 15. The purpose of the online questionnaire is to help generate ideas and identify potential planning issues and opportunities specific to Lake of the Woods as the DNR begins the planning process.

“This questionnaire offers people the chance to help advance management of the high-quality, multi-species fishery that is Lake of the Woods,” Matt Skoog, Baudette area fisheries supervisor, said in the release.

“We especially want to hear peoples’ thoughts about walleye and sauger angling, observations about winter angling, the importance of keeping fish to eat, as well as ideas about large fish like lake sturgeon and northern pike.”

Written comments may be submitted by emailing baudette.fisheries@state.mn.us or mailing comments to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 204 Main Street E., Baudette, MN 56623.

Additional public input opportunities will be announced and made available as the plan is being developed. In addition, the draft plan will be available for public review and comment in mid to late summer, the DNR release said.

Skoog said he doesn’t expect noteworthy changes to fisheries management of the lake, given the current status of most fish species in relation to goals set in 2018.

While fall walleye gill-net catch rates for Lake of the Woods had dipped in the recent past, last year’s catch of about 21 fish per net far surpassed the management goal of 14 per net. The DNR currently is updating LotW’s fisheries management plan. (Image courtesy of Minnesota DNR)

For example, consider walleyes, an angler favorite on Lake of the Woods. While three recent years of standard gill-net catches of walleyes fell slight below the department’s goal of 14 fish per net (including 12.75 per net in 2022), Skoog said the past year’s netting resulted in a catch of about 21 walleyes per gill net, above the historical average of 15.3 per gill net.

The number of smaller walleyes – those in the 12- to 14-inch range – was up “quite a bit,” he said. The number of “eater-size” walleyes – 14 to 19 inches – was near the management plan’s goal.

The gill-net catch of sauger in recent years has been “consistently over” the management goal, Skoog said.

RELATED COVERAGE FROM OUTDOOR NEWS:

Lake of the Woods producing a variety of fish through the ice

Lake of the Woods offers a little bit of everything for ice anglers

Gill-netting is just one of several annual assessments of Lake of the Woods, one of the state’s 10 “large” lakes. There’s also a spring electrofishing assessment, which monitors the size structure of the mature (spawning fish) segment of the walleye population.

And, the DNR conducts annual young-of-the-year percid assessments, which target and monitor young walleyes, sauger, and yellow perch. Fall gill nets also monitor other species, such as northern pike, yellow perch, and ciscoes.

From the DNR’s 2022 survey report regarding northern pike: Lake of the Woods is managed for a high-quality northern pike population, with a significant component of “trophy” northern pike over 40 inches long.

To monitor the size structure of the northern pike population, it is sampled every five years using trap nets at known spawning sites. Trap netting conducted in 2022 revealed a high-quality size structure for sampled tributaries to Lake of the Woods. Fall gill netting in 2022 sampled northern pike from 8.5 to 41.9 inches with an average length of 23.3 inches.

The 2018 plan also set as a goal a harvest of 540,000 or fewer pounds of walleyes by anglers during a harvest year. Skoog said the harvest in 2022 was about 330,000 pounds, split nearly equally between open-water and ice anglers. A recent DNR report indicates fishing activity during the summer of 2023 was below the six-year average on Lake of the Woods (670,000 angler hours).

From the opening of walleye season in May until the end of September, anglers spent over 600,000 angler hours fishing on the lake. Walleye harvest was 175,000 pounds, and 45,000 pounds of sauger were harvested last summer.

Walleye and sauger harvests are regulated via special rules for Lake of the Woods. Through April 14, the walleye/sauger aggregate limit is six (no more than four may be walleyes). Walleyes from 19.5 through 28 inches must be immediately released. Only one walleye over 28 inches total length may be possessed.

The 2018 plan

Aside from a host of past data and population goals for fish ranging from walleyes to lake sturgeon, the 2018 fisheries management plan for Lake of the Woods contains a nod to the lake’s recent fishing history, which included, until 1985, commercial walleye fishing.

According to that plan’s executive summary, from the late 1800s through mid-1900s, “commercial fishing was the primary use of the Lake of the Woods fishery. In the mid-1900s, sport fishing began to increase and competition arose between the two components. While commercial endeavors focused on walleyes and lake sturgeon, walleyes were the primary target of sport anglers.”

The summary notes that “by the early 1900s, the lake sturgeon population had collapsed, while the walleye population was showing signs of over-exploitation.”

Fish surveys of the lake began some 90 years ago, with dire data for walleyes resulting in reducing participation in the commercial fishery through license holder attrition.

It wasn’t until the 1984 legislative session, however, that the DNR “was directed to purchase the remaining commercial walleye quotas to accelerate the removal of the commercial fishery. The last commercial game fish harvest took place in 1985.”

To further protect walleyes and sauger, sport angling limits were reduced.

And in the 1970s, federal clean water legislation and resultant improvements in wastewater handling improved water quality and habitat in the Rainy River, which spurred recovery of the lake sturgeon population.

According to the DNR’s release last Tuesday, “Lake of the Woods is a large lake located on the United States-Canada border. Approximately 300,000 acres of the lake (one-third of its total size) are located within the U.S.

The Minnesota portion of the lake consists of several distinct basins, including Muskeg Bay, Big Traverse Bay, and Little Traverse Bay.

Visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakeofthewoods/index.html for more information.

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