Over many years, too many walleyes taken from Red Lake by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and by sport anglers and poachers resulted in a collapse of the lake’s walleye fishery in the late 1990s.
The Chippewa and the state responded by shutting down Red Lake walleye harvesting and intensively stocking the lake. Not until the summer of 2006 did the DNR again allow walleye fishing on the portion of Upper Red within its jurisdiction.
About 83 percent of Upper and Lower Red Lake lies within reservation boundaries, with a portion of Upper Red (17 percent of Red Lake’s total acreage) belonging to the state.
Tribal fisheries managers never have allowed harvesting during the spawn.
Reflecting the health and size of the lake, the band’s safe walleye harvest is 829,500 pounds, with sport anglers getting 168,000 pounds. The numbers are based on 3½ pounds of walleye per acre of water and represent the band’s proportionately larger share of the lake.
This summer, the state’s daily and possession sport-fishing limit on Upper Red is two walleyes per angler, with a 17-26 inch protected slot. In 2013 and 2014, the limit there was four walleyes, and the protected slot was smaller, 20-26 inches (after June 15 each year), producing a sport walleye harvest during the 2014 fishing season (Dec. 1, 2013-Nov. 30, 2014) of 231,000 pounds — close to the 240,000 mark at which the DNR would have had to shut down the lake, said DNR area fisheries supervisor Gary Barnard.
Going forward, state and tribal fisheries managers will be challenged to keep the number of Red Lake’s big walleyes in balance with its smaller fish. Because tribal fishermen harvest fish in a 13-22 inch slot, the size of their take is spread over a wider range. Sport anglers might also be allowed bigger fish from Red in the future. If so, the walleye poundage quota might temporarily be relaxed to accommodate harvest of the heavier fish.
The tribal walleye harvest is cleaned and packaged for shipment at the band’s fish processing plant. As necessary, some tribal walleyes are taken by net to keep the plant operating. But tribal managers prefer to pay members for walleyes caught with hook and line, because that method employs more people.
This spring, walleye fishing on Upper Red has been up and down, in part because of inclement weather. But the two-fish limit and tighter slot haven’t diminished interest in the lake among anglers.
“If the bite is hot, people come regardless of the two-walleye limit,” Barnard said.