A famous Minnesota walleye lake could see an upgrade of its northern pike population if the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) finalizes a proposed experimental fishing regulation aimed at reversing a decades-long decline in the size of northern catches.

DNR Acting Brainerd Area Fisheries Supervisor Derek Bahr said most Gull Lake northerns are caught incidentally by anglers fishing for walleyes and other species of fish. But some guides, lakeshore residents, avid fishing enthusiasts and members of a northern pike fishing club have voiced general support for a protected slot limit that would foster the growth of "gators" or "jackfish" beyond 40 inches.

The agency has been seeking public comment on the proposal; it held an open house Thursday at its regional conference center in Brainerd. If the regulation is implemented as proposed, anglers on the entire Gull Lake chain would be disallowed from harvesting northerns between 30 and 40 inches. In addition, the northern pike bag limit on Gull and its seven connected lakes would be two fish, with only one over 40 inches.

"A significant number of Gull Lake pike would be protected under the new slot," the DNR wrote as part of its justification for the proposal.

Another aspect to the proposed change would be the discontinuation of a special regulation begun in 2003 on Round Lake that implemented a 30-inch minimum for northern pike catches. The biggest reason for the Round Lake change would be for consistency of rules throughout the chain.

"We continue to see a decline of fish over 30 inches," Bahr said. "We're trying to move the needle back toward the other direction."

He said Gull has the right stuff to be a trophy northern pike lake without affecting the core walleye fishery. That's because Gull has a low overall density of northerns, a strong growth rate for the fish and an abundant supply of prey.

"We all love our big pike so I don't think this will do anything but help us," said Jeff Wohl, president of the Brainerd chapter of Northerns Inc., an international fishing club.

The DNR cited a trend of worsening catch sizes in the club's International Pike Tournament, held annually on Gull for the past 48 years. The 49th annual tourney is scheduled for Sept. 23-24.

At one time, 15-pound northerns occupied the bottom of the top 25 catches in the tournament, according to the DNR. Eventually, 12- to 13-pound pike began to occupy the top of the tournament's final standings.

Moreover, DNR crews sampled Gull's northern pike population with trap-netting in 2001 and again in 2013. Comparing the results, 22% of the fish captured in 2001 exceeded 30 inches in length versus 11% in 2013. Similarly, according to the DNR, 5% of the northerns netted in 2001 were longer than 36 inches vs. 1% in 2013.

Wohl confirmed the trend, but said tournament results started to bounce back in the past couple of years. Seven or eight years ago, he said, 170 contestants who could fish for two days caught a combined total of less than 25 pike longer than 33 inches.

"There's no doubt I think this will help," Wohl said.

But not everyone is expected to support the proposed regulation, which is open for public comment through Oct. 20. Wohl and Bahr both said opposition could come from darkhouse spearing enthusiasts.

The DNR also is considering at least seven other special regulations, including proposed fishing changes for northern pike in Stearns County's Pearl Lake; crappie and sunfish in Wright County's Clearwater Lake and Maple Lake; sunfish in Lake Winnibigoshish; northern pike in three Itasca County lakes; and walleye in Hubbard County's Big Sand Lake.