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Barnard said the Tamarack River at Upper Red Lake and the Mississippi River below Bemidji could be closed to protect fish. The DNR will announce closed areas later.
Last April, DNR employees were already stripping millions of eggs and sperm from walleyes at eight locations as part of agency’s walleye production and stocking program. This year, they haven’t started.
The late ice-out will condense the DNR’s egg-taking process, but it won’t deter it. “We’ll get them,’’ said Neil Vanderbosch, who heads the program.
Workers plan to collect 600 million eggs, which go to 11 state hatcheries. There they blossom into 370 million tiny walleye fry. About 264 million will be stocked in 291 lakes; the rest will go into rearing ponds to grow to 3-inch fingerlings, also to be dumped in lakes.
Walleye spawning is triggered by photoperiod and water temperature. The length of days has them primed to spawn now. Once the ice melts, things could happen quickly, Vanderbosch said. His crews will be ready.
What if the ice lingers?
“If we get into May and the lakes are still locked in ice,’’ Vanderbosch said, “I think we’ll have bigger problems than our walleye egg take: people going crazy.’’
Indian bands that net walleye in Lake Mille Lacs almost always are done before the sportfishing opener, which avoids potential clashes between tribal netters and non-band sport anglers.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,’’ said Sue Erickson, public information director for the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission in Odanah, Wis., which represents 11 Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, some of which net walleyes on Mille Lacs.
The late ice-out, Erickson said, “might have band members and anglers on the lake simultaneously. I would hope people would still be respectful of each other if that happens.’’
The tribal netters might be able to get their nets out near the shoreline, even if the rest of the lake is ice-covered, said Rick Bruesewitz, DNR area fisheries manager. But the late spring could mean those fish quickly spawn and depart for deeper waters, reducing the bands’ catch. That happened in 2011, when ice didn’t depart until May.
“It was a very short season,’’ Erickson said.
Meanwhile, more snow was forecast Up North this weekend. And Anderson, the Leech Lake guide, could only joke about it.
“It will be an opener we’ll never forget,’’ he said. “We’ll probably be ice fishing.’’
Doug Smith • firstname.lastname@example.org
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