In an age and time when bad news often dominates environmental issues, including, occasionally, those involving fish and fishing, a pleasant surprise surfaced this week in the form of a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) news release.
Upper Red Lake, the DNR said, will be governed by a new, more forgiving walleye harvest regulation beginning May 11, when the state’s open-water fishing season begins.
The walleye limit on that huge lake will remain four as it was a year ago. But this summer, anglers fishing Upper Red can take home plumper walleyes than was the case in recent years.
Since May 2017, Upper Red walleye anglers were restricted to only one fish longer than 17 inches in their four-fish limits. Now anglers can keep four walleyes with one longer than 20 inches — or, if they choose, four walleyes under 20 inches.
The adjustment, DNR fisheries managers said, will result in an increased angler harvest of mature females, too many of which now inhabit the lake, according to goals established in Upper Red’s management plan.
“We’re using the new regulation to let anglers remove surplus spawning stock, which hasn’t sufficiently happened under the previous regulation,” said Gary Barnard, DNR Bemidji area fisheries supervisor.
Barnard added his agency likely will tighten the walleye harvest regulation before next winter “after anglers remove the surplus of mature female walleye.”
So healthy is Upper Red’s walleye population that the new regulation is being implemented on the heels of a record 2018 harvest. Anglers took home some 234,000 pounds of Upper Red walleyes last year, the most since angling for the state’s finned icon was restarted on the lake in 2006.
Yet even that catch-and-keep poundage didn’t lower the lake’s walleye spawning stock to the DNR goal of 2.5-4.5 pounds per acre.
Thus, for now, the lake’s new, more generous walleye limit.