Anglers have questioned the Mille Lacs protected walleye slot for many years, wondering if it’s hurting the lake’s fishery — and the people who depend on it — more than helping.
Now similar questions are being raised at Lake Winnibigoshish, or “Winnie.”
Consider this opening weekend report from Bill Voedisch, Dean Sweeney, John Zollars, Dave Johnson and Herb Polzin, all from the metro.
“We caught well over 40 walleyes for the weekend,” Voedisch said. “But we were able to keep exactly zero fish.”
The protected slot on Winnie is 17 to 26 inches. The Voedisch bunch did manage one 28-inch trophy walleye on this year’s opener. But that fish was returned to the lake.
“Last year, we caught 46 walleyes on the opener, and only two were legal to be kept,” Voedisch said.
Most of this group has fished together for more than a half-century. They understand walleyes have to be protected from overharvest — particularly in an age when anglers are more knowledgeable and use better equipment.
“But we should be able to keep at least one fish a day from Winnie/Cutfoot,” Voedisch said. “One walleye of any size should be legal. That way, we could have one or two fish meals for the weekend, and maybe take home a fish.
“For us on these waters, it’s pretty much turned into catch-and-release fishing.”
Area fisheries manager Chris Kavanaugh of Grand Rapids has heard similar complaints, and says the DNR is proposing to adjust Winnie’s protected slot to 18-25 inches, beginning with the 2015 opener. That will allow more of the lake’s walleyes to be kept.
But Kavanaugh says Winnie doesn’t have a shortage of “keeper” walleyes. Recent surveys show that more than half the lake’s walleyes are 13 to 17 inches long, and the most abundant size is 14-15 inches.
“One problem has been in these late springs like we’ve had the last two years, it’s the bigger walleyes that bite first,” Kavanaugh said. “That affects the opener. But as the season goes on, the smaller fish start showing up.”
For more information about Lake Winnibigoshish and its fish, go online at lakewinnie.net.