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Early opener, spawn on collision course

  • Article by: Doug Smith
  • Star Tribune
  • April 15, 2012 - 8:00 AM

Though ice left Minnesota lakes in record fashion, recent frigid weather has slowed Minnesota's walleye spawn.

And that means fish still could be spawning and vulnerable to overharvest if the fishing season is opened May 5, a week earlier than scheduled, as proposed by the Legislature.

"The way things are headed, the likelihood that there will be concentrations of spawning fish is quite high,'' said Chris Kavanaugh, Department of Natural Resources area fisheries manager in Grand Rapids.

"If we have continued cool weather, and we open on May 5th, there might be some areas we have to close to fishing because of concentrated walleye spawning,'' he said. "I'm a little nervous about opening it early.''

Henry Drewes, DNR regional fisheries manager in Bemidji, agrees.

"It depends on the weather in the next three weeks, but the [recent] cool-down increases the likelihood there would be spawning fish concentrations with an early opener,'' he said.

A warm spell would reduce those concerns.

"We're in uncharted territory,'' Kavanaugh said.

The areas that could be closed include some traditionally popular opener fishing spots.

"We have to balance conservation and recreational opportunity,'' Kavanaugh said. "If you err, you want to err on the side of conservation."

A more 'normal' spring

The DNR's annual spring collection of walleye eggs for hatcheries, which started early because of the early ice-out, slowed to a crawl last week because of the cold temperatures. The resulting walleye fry are used to stock lakes around the state.

Few female walleyes, ripe with eggs, are coming into the DNR's traps at the seven collection areas around the state. Officials are hoping to collect about 4,000 quarts of fertilized eggs, and by midweek workers had collected just 1,200 quarts.

"What drives the fish to spawn is a combination of water temperature and the amount of daylight hours,'' Kavanaugh said. The water at the Cutfoot Sioux egg-stripping area was 41 degrees recently.

Since the early ice-out and warm March, "water temperatures and fish spawning has retreated from early towards normal,'' Drewes said. "We've had temperatures in the 20s.''

Legislature returns

Whether any of this affects the Legislature's proposal to move the opener from May 12 to May 5 is uncertain. The House passed the plan as an amendment to a large game and fish bill. The Senate has yet to pass its version of the bill. The Legislature was off last week and will return Monday. Differences between the two likely will be resolved in a conference committee, and Gov. Mark Dayton would have to sign the bill into law.

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee is holding an information hearing on the matter at 9 a.m. Monday in Room 15 of the Capitol.

New Bass Expo

Never heard of the Minnesota Bass Expo? That's because it's new -- and the first one is Friday through Sunday at the National Sports Center in Blaine. Some 120 exhibitors will be on hand displaying tackle, electronics, gear and boats. There'll be seminars, travel destinations, fly-tying demos, a kid's fishing pond and a used fishing boat sale. Speakers include guide Tony Roach and Bruce "Doc" Samson, fishing electronics expert.

For more information, including seminar schedule, see www.startribune.com/a1212.

Not enough deer?

The DNR held meetings recently with deer hunters and other stakeholders as part of the agency's reassessment of deer population goals. The agency is focusing on 23 permit areas in southwestern and north-central Minnesota. Officials met with the same stakeholder groups formed during the last reevaluation in 2005-07. The DNR also will take public comments via its website beginning Monday. About 60 people attended three meetings. "Some want more deer and some want fewer deer," said Steve Merchant, DNR wildlife programs manager.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com

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