Good walleye fishing this summer on Upper Red Lake won’t push the season’s harvest beyond what is considered safe or sustainable, but state fisheries managers are leaning heavily toward a tighter walleye bag limit for the coming winter.
Gary Barnard, Bemidji-area fisheries supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources, said this week that the agency will be meeting with the lake’s citizen advisory group to discuss the potential change.
“We might have to tighten it up,” Barnard said. “There’s been a lot more fishing pressure.”
For state-licensed anglers, two-thirds of Upper Red’s annual walleye harvest arrives through the ice. Last winter, anglers were allowed to keep four walleyes, but only one over 17 inches. That regulation was relaxed for the current open-water season to four walleyes, with one over 20 inches. The shift made a lot more walleyes eligible for keeping.
Barnard said the relaxed bag limit has been put to good use by crowds of anglers, but there’s concern that if the summer regulation carried over to winter the state could overshoot its target harvest range for walleyes of 240,000 to 336,000 pounds in 2020.
State anglers already have exceeded last year’s total walleye harvest from Upper Red of 234,000 pounds. It was the most fish caught since a seven-year shutdown on walleye fishing ended in 2006.
Barnard said this year’s estimated walleye harvest already has surpassed 260,000 pounds.
Minnesota co-manages the fishery with the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, and the joint stewardship famously reversed Red Lake’s previously imperiled walleye population. Barnard said parameters for the upcoming walleye regulation will depend on the annual fall netting survey — a tool that informed fish biologists last year that there was a surplus of female spawning stock.
Upper Red’s special regulation for northern pike fishing also is due for a change. Since 2006, anglers on the lake haven’t been able to keep northerns 26 to 44 inches long. The DNR is proposing to ease the protective slot to a range of 30 to 40 inches.
Barnard said public input on the proposal will be received at a meeting in September. If approved, the change would take effect in March 2020. Barnard said the current slot is probably over-restrictive and didn’t improve the trophy quality of northern pike in Upper Red to the extent that resource managers anticipated.