Smith: Upper Red Lake comes back from the depths

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 19, 2012 - 6:46 AM

After lean (and even closed) seasons, Upper Red Lake is a "walleye factory."

hide

Tim Waldo, owner of West Wind resort in Waskish, holds up a 17-inch walleye that he caught on Upper Red Lake in spring 2006, when walleye angling was reopened after a seven-year closure.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Resort owner Jerry Barthel witnessed the collapse of the Upper Red Lake walleye fishery in the 1990s, the closure of the lake to walleye fishing, and the ice-angler frenzy when huge crappies briefly filled the walleye void.

The monster crappies -- and the long line of anglers' vehicles at Barthel's lake access -- are mostly gone. But now he and others are seeing the continued resurgence of Upper Red Lake's walleye fishery. Since the lake was reopened to walleye fishing in 2006, it has been attracting thousands of anglers.

The walleye population is at a record high, so regulations have been relaxed this winter to give anglers a better chance of keeping fish for the fry pan. And with ice thick enough to walk on, anglers already are converging.

"It was crazy over the weekend -- people were everywhere,'' said Barthel, who runs Rogers' Campground and RV Park on the south shore of Upper Red, and provides lake access. He and others are ecstatic over the walleye rebound.

"Our phone was ringing off the hook,'' said Tim Waldo, owner of West Wind Resort. His lodge was full recently, so some anglers slept in his ice-fishing houses still parked on the shore of the sprawling lake.

With only 1 to 2 inches of snow on the lake, and temperatures in the single digits, Waldo and Barthel say it won't be long before trucks can haul those permanent ice-fishing houses onto the ice, kicking the season into high gear. And they believe the high walleye population and more liberal slot limit will attract even more anglers this winter.

"The walleye fishing the last few years has been outstanding -- the best it's ever been,'' said Barthel, who has owned his resort for 19 years.

He's not exaggerating.

The Department of Natural Resources' gill-net walleye survey last fall found up to 60 fish-per-net -- the highest since the agency began the survey 30 years ago. To put that in perspective, the average on Lake of the Woods, where fishing also has been excellent, is 18 fish-per-net, and at Leech Lake, which also has undergone a walleye resurgence, the average is 9.4 fish-per-net.

At Upper Red Lake, fisheries biologists say there's an assortment of different-sized fish, which underscores the healthy reproduction.

"The walleye fishery is thriving,'' said Henry Drewes, the DNR's regional fisheries manager. "Given the regulation change and the status of fishery, I would expect it's going to be extremely busy winter up there.''

Collapse to recovery

The collapse of the walleye fishery on Red Lake -- two huge basins, Upper Red Lake and Lower Red Lake -- was well-documented. Commercial netting by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and overfishing nearly wiped out the walleyes by the early 1990s. The DNR and band closed both bodies to fishing, and stocked millions of walleye fry over several years to jump-start its recovery.

Officials had thought it might take a decade or longer for the lake to recover. Remarkably, it was reopened in just seven years.

"We knew Red Lake was a walleye factory, but I can't say I would have predicted this,'' said Gary Barnard, DNR area fisheries manager. "It's exceeded my expectations.''

And just about everyone else's.

Before the walleye rebound, crappies temporarily filled the void, aided by historic reproduction in 1995. For several years, unprecedented numbers of anglers stormed the lake to catch 12- to 15-inch slabs. Anglers and businesses never saw anything like it -- and likely won't again.

"In the crappie days, we had 500 vehicles go through here one Saturday,'' said Barthel. "Now on a good weekend, we don't get even half of that. I don't think we'll ever see that kind of traffic."

Anglers still catch the occasional nice crappie, but the numbers are no longer there.

"It occurred during unprecedented low walleye abundance,'' Drewes said. "If we do our job right, it won't happen again.''

A walleye surplus

The last major walleye fry stocking was in 2003.

"Since then, we've documented excellent natural reproduction,'' Drewes said. "We have 12 different age classes of fish. Growth rates have improved. The condition of the fish -- their plumpness -- has improved. They are impressive fish.''

And officials want anglers to take more of them.

The Red Lake Band has resumed limited commercial harvest of walleyes, mostly by hook-and-line, but also with gill nets, which aren't used during the spring spawning season. Drewes said the state and the band are committed to protecting the fishery and not overharvesting walleyes.

Under a joint agreement, the band, which controls 237,000 acres, including all of Lower Red Lake and more than half of Upper Red Lake, can harvest 415,000 to 830,000 pounds of walleyes. Last year, the band took about 750,000 pounds.

Anglers on the 48,000 acres of state-controlled Upper Red Lake can take 84,000 to 168,000 pounds. Last year, they took about 72,000 pounds -- which is why the DNR has relaxed the sot limit.

"There's no reason to not allow anglers to harvest a few more fish,'' Barnard said. "People are pretty excited about it.''

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com Twitter: @dougsmithstrib

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Arrieta 2 FINAL
Cincinnati - WP: D. Axelrod 7
NY Yankees - LP: S. Kelley 2 FINAL
Detroit - WP: P. Coke 3
Colorado - LP: J. Lyles 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: Y. Petit 4
Tampa Bay - LP: K. Yates 4 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 5
Atlanta - WP: M. Minor 6 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: J. Niese 1
Cleveland - WP: C. Carrasco 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: J. Danks 2
Minnesota - WP: A. Swarzak 11 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: B. Chen 5
Texas - LP: R. Mendez 2 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 4
Oakland - LP: R. Cook 3 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: F. Salas 4
Atlanta 24 FINAL
Jacksonville 14
Detroit 23 FINAL
Buffalo 0
Indianapolis 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 35
Kansas City 14 FINAL
Green Bay 34
NY Jets 7 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
St. Louis 13 FINAL
Miami 14
Carolina 10 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
New England 13 FINAL
NY Giants 16
Washington 24 FINAL
Tampa Bay 10
Baltimore 22 FINAL
New Orleans 13
Chicago 13 FINAL
Cleveland 33
Denver 27 FINAL
Dallas 3
Minnesota 19 FINAL
Tennessee 3
San Francisco 40 FINAL
Houston 13
Arizona 9 FINAL
San Diego 12
Seattle 31 FINAL
Oakland 41
(21) Texas A&M 52 FINAL
(9) So Carolina 28
Wake Forest 10 FINAL
ULM 17
Boise State 13 FINAL
(18) Ole Miss 35
Tulane 31 FINAL
Tulsa 38
Rutgers 41 FINAL
Washington St 38
Weber State 14 FINAL
(19) Arizona State 45
Temple 37 FINAL
Vanderbilt 7
BYU 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 9:30 PM
Arizona
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
UCF
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
UAB
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Virginia
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Navy
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Michigan
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Ottawa 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close