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Continued: Searching for perch bites in the biting cold

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 12, 2014 - 12:27 AM

The bite was hotter earlier in the season, he said. “We sent groups home with nice batches of fish,” he said.

Still, we caught enough for a fish fry and enjoyed relaxing out on the frozen lake and returning to a cozy cabin at sunset.

For Leech Lake resorts, it’s been a rough few months. First came the unusually cold spring and a late ice-out — several days after the May fishing opener. Then earlier this winter, slush hindered lake travel on Leech and other northern Minnesota lakes.

“We lost our fishing opener [last May] because of the ice, and we had to cancel our first two weeks of ice fishing because of the slush,” Campbell said. “Not good starts.”

Now the winter season is humming along nicely.

Walleye affect perch

Campbell said his winter customers primarily target perch, not Leech’s famous walleyes — which might be seen as odd considering the lake’s walleye population is so high that the Department of Natural Resources plans to loosen fishing regulations next May to allow anglers to keep more fish.

The current 18- to 26-inch protected slot will be relaxed to a 20- to 26-inch protected slot. The four-fish bag limit, with one fish allowed over 26 inches, will be retained.

The lake’s walleye biomass is at a near-record high, which officials say is not sustainable and likely is at least partly responsible for a recent decline in the perch population. The DNR’s gill net survey last year found 12 perch per net, down almost two-thirds from 35 per net in 2007.

Perch, of course, are a primary forage fish for walleyes.

“We’ve had poor perch year classes in recent years,” said Doug Schultz, DNR area fisheries manager. “Predation has probably had a lot to do with that. And we had a record perch harvest [in 2010-11]. The word has gotten out that Leech has pretty good perch fishing in the wintertime.”

Cormorants also aren’t to blame for the perch decline, Schultz said. The cormorant population on the lake has been culled annually since 2005 because of concerns the fish-eating waterfowl were hurting the walleye population.

Walleye fry have been stocked in the lake annually since 2005, and 22 million are scheduled to be stocked this spring. The DNR will discuss with a local advisory committee next month whether that stocking should be done.

Meanwhile, though the perch population is down, some good perch fishing can be found, Schultz said.

“There’s still fish to catch; it just requires a little more work,” he said.

With a high walleye population and perch still available, Campbell, too, remains optimistic.

“If you get where there are fish, it seems like there still are lots of them,” he said. “But finding them is always difficult, even when numbers are high.”

 

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  • Fishing guide Kevin Peterson, 31, of Walker, Minn., held up two nice perch — target fish for many winter anglers on Leech Lake.

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  • David Keen, 66, of Winona, Minn., pulled a perch through 3 feet of ice on Leech Lake. Though his group had rented a heated fish house, he had better luck moving around to different spots outside in subzero temperatures and even lower windchills. “It’s not bad if you’re dressed right,’’ he said.

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