Move up fishing opener? Not all resorters are game

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 7, 2012 - 7:06 PM
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Last year's opener on South Lindstrom Lake drew a crowd of fishermen, as anglers braved cool temperatures and rain.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Moving Minnesota's fishing opener up a week might sound like a great idea for walleye-hungry anglers, but not everyone is thrilled.

"It will be a nightmare for us and a nightmare for resorters,'' said Tom Neustrom of Grand Rapids, a fishing guide. "What are they thinking?''

He said that anglers long ago booked trips for guides and resorts, and changing the dates would be "a mess.''

Jay Schelde, owner of Pike Bay Lodge on Lake Vermilion and president of the Lake Vermilion Resort Association, agreed.

"I don't think it will help anybody,'' Schelde said. "It's way too short notice.''

His group represents 38 resorts, and owners of nine met last week. "Not one was in favor of opening early,'' he said.

"You just don't open the resort a week earlier; there's work to do and staff to set up, docks to put out,'' Schelde said.

Lake Winnibigoshish resort owners also aren't thrilled.

"We are totally against it,'' said Pat O'Reilley, co-owner of Northland Lodge and president of the Lake Winnibigoshish Area Resort Association. "It's just a waste of time and will cause confusion.''

O'Reilley said his resort is full for the opener, and he won't open early, even if the state starts the season May 5.

The Minnesota House voted last week to make the one-time change, opening this year's walleye season May 5 instead of May 12. The Senate also would have to pass the measure and Gov. Mark Dayton would have to sign it.

DNR 'has concerns'

DNR officials acknowledge that walleye spawning is likely to be done in most areas by May 5, meaning biologically, opening the season early might not hurt the fish population.

"But we have some concerns about it,'' said Bob Meier, assistant DNR commissioner. A major problem is at Lake Mille Lacs, where angler walleye harvest is regulated by a quota system with Chippewa bands.

"If we have a hot bite [and early opener], it could force us to impose a more restrictive slot early in the season,'' Meier said.

How about no opener?

Mike Triska, owner of Voyageur Cove Resort on Lake Vermilion, said he supports the early opener.

"It most definitely would help business, even if it's only for one year,'' he said. But, he said, he'd like to see the DNR drop opening dates altogether and just leave the season open year-round, as South Dakota and some other states do.

"They shouldn't have the season closed at all,'' he said. "A lot of lakes, like Vermilion, have slot limits, which protects female walleyes.''

With no opening date, resorts could open whenever they wanted to, he said.

Record muskie netted?

Chippewa band members netting walleyes on Lake Mille Lacs last week caught a 54.8-pound muskie, which would have been a state record, had it been caught with hook and line. DNR officials didn't see the fish, but it was recorded on the band's daily harvest report. They also don't know if the fish was weighed on a certified scale, or what was done with it.

"It's an incidental catch,'' said Patrick Schmalz, DNR fisheries research scientist at Aitkin. "On average, maybe a dozen muskies are harvested by the bands each year, according to their reports.''

Harvest gearing up

Tribal walleye netting on Mille Lacs has been slow, Schmalz said. "They've taken 27,000 pounds so far,'' he said. But water temperatures have been hovering around 40 degrees, he said, meaning fish aren't yet in full spawning mode.

New Mille Lacs regs

It wasn't a surprise when the DNR announced last week that walleye regulations will be tightened on Lake Mille Lacs this season. Fishing was very good last summer and this winter, and DNR officials told Mille Lacs-area businesses that the state won't be allowed to exceed its quota this season.

So the protected slot is being reduced; walleyes 17 to 28 inches must be released. The new regulations still allow one walleye 28 inches or longer to be included in the four-fish limit.

The slot is being tightened from 18 to 28 inches to ensure the state doesn't exceed its allocation of 357,000 pounds. The tribal allocation is 142,500 pounds.

Most Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group members supported the new slot, said Terry McQuoid of McQuoid's Inn on Mille Lacs.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com

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