The walleye population on Leech Lake remains strong, according to this fall’s test netting survey.
And anglers who fish Upper Red Lake this winter will be able to keep walleye from a wider slot limit than previously.
First the Leech Lake news: The Department of Natural Resources walleye catch rates were above the long-term average for the sixth consecutive year.
"September gill nets showed good numbers of both juvenile and adult walleye," said Matt Ward, DNR large lake specialist in Walker. "It is encouraging to have a balanced walleye population within and outside the protected slot limit of 18 and 26 inches."
Thirty-five percent of walleye sampled were within the slot limit.
The DNR said the results show that the agency’s management plan for Leech — which includes special fishing regulations, walleye fry stocking, cormorant management and an increased emphasis on aquatic habitat protection — is working.
Strong 2010 and 2011 year-classes of walleyes are present and those fish will start providing harvest opportunities this winter, the agency said Monday in a news release.
Meanwhile, the DNR plans to retain the 20- to 26-inch protected slot limit on Upper Red Lake throughout the 2012-2013 winter walleye season. The daily bag and possession limit also would remain at four fish with only one fish allowed longer than 26 inches.
"This is a significant change from previous winter seasons when the protected slot limit would revert back to 17-26 inches on Dec. 1," Gary Barnard, Bemidji area fisheries supervisor, said in a news release.
The change was prompted by annual harvest estimates below the target harvest range during the past two years. DNR discussions with the Upper Red Lake Citizen Advisory Committee last March, and again in September, confirmed that current open water regulations have been popular and effective.
For the past four years, the protected slot limit on Upper Red Lake has been 17- to 26-inches from the May walleye opener through June 14, when catch rates are high and spawning stock most vulnerable. Since 2009, there has been a mid-season slot limit adjustment to 20-26 from June 15 through Nov. 30. At its September meeting, the Advisory Committee unanimously agreed to recommend that the open water regulations remain the same and to focus on winter regulation changes to encourage additional harvest.
The proposed regulation change is expected to increase harvest to within the yearly target harvest range of 84,000 to 168,000 pounds. Increased harvest projections are based on several factors including the probability that more fish will be vulnerable to harvest, an increase in the average size of fish harvested, and the likelihood of additional angling pressure.
Walleye abundance on Upper Red Lake remains high, the DNR said, with new record gill net catch rates experienced in the 2012 assessment. Spawning stock also remains high, indicating excellent production of young walleye in recent years. Additional harvest of walleye from 17 to 20 inches may be beneficial to maintaining good growth rates and improving the proportion of larger fish in the population, the agency said.
At Leech Lake, the number of young-of-the-year walleye (those hatched during the spring of 2012) sampled with both trawling and electrofishing were above the long-term average for each gear type.
Here’s more from the DNR news release:
The average size for this year-class was good, at 6.1 inches during the mid-September electrofishing assessment. Larger sizes in the fall usually translate to higher winter survival.
Other game fish species targeted with test nets include yellow perch and northern pike. Yellow perch abundance declined for the fifth consecutive year, while northern pike abundance continues to remain stable. The primary species of nongame fish assessed with the test nets is cisco. Despite a minor cisco summer kill caused by warm temperatures in 2012, fall test netting indicated adequate numbers of cisco continue to be present.
Lakewide, walleye counts in DNR test nets averaged 9.42 walleye per net lift, which was similar to results from the past four years and was above the long-term average of 7.7 walleye per net lift.