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DNR again looks to ease midsummer regs on Upper Red Lake

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources again this summer is proposing a relaxed walleye slot limit after June 15 on Upper Red Lake. As part of the proposal, which awaits approval by DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten, anglers only would have to...

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources again this summer is proposing a relaxed walleye slot limit after June 15 on Upper Red Lake.

As part of the proposal, which awaits approval by DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten, anglers only would have to release walleyes measuring from 20 inches to 26 inches after June 15. From the May walleye opener until mid-June, all walleyes from 17 inches to 26 inches would have to be released.

Anglers could keep one trophy longer than 26 inches, and the bag limit would be four in both cases.

According to Henry Drewes, regional fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Bemidji, anglers this winter kept 65,000 pounds of walleyes on Upper Red during the survey period that began Dec. 1 and ended Feb. 28. That's up from 52,000 pounds during the same time last year and second only to the winter of 2006-2007, when anglers kept 70,000 pounds of walleyes

If summer harvest keeps pace with last year, when anglers kept 95,000 pounds of walleyes, Drewes said the annual walleye take will be close to the target harvest of 168,000 pounds. Fishing pressure increased substantially last summer after the protected slot limit was relaxed.

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Drewes said the walleye population on Red Lake is at a point where the DNR can offer more stable regulations.

"There's a lot of fish from 12 inches up to 19 inches," he said. "And then after 19 inches, those medium-size fish just are not real abundant in the system -- the fish from 19 to 25 inches."

Biologists speculate the relative absence of larger fish results from a population that was higher than the forage base could support. But now, Drewes said, both Minnesota and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa are ramping up their walleye harvest.

"As we move closer to target, we're probably going to see growth rates of those larger fish improve and move into that midrange size," Drewes said. "That's what we're hoping to see."

Tighter pike regs?

In related news, Drewes said the DNR is gauging interest in a proposal to further protect large northern pike on Upper Red by implementing a 26- to 44-inch protected slot limit. The existing regulation protects pike from 26 inches to 40 inches in length.

Drewes said the idea to protect more large pike results from a citizen advisory committee that meets with the DNR periodically on issues related to Upper Red. The committee, which includes anglers, area business owners and others, supports the more restrictive slot.

First, though, Drewes said, the DNR will post access points along the lake this spring informing anglers about the proposal. The DNR also will gather angler input this summer and during a series of public meetings next fall as required under the agency's formal rule-making process.

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Upper Red, in recent years, has gained a reputation as one of the premier trophy pike fisheries in Minnesota.

"I'd say the last six years it's been kind of a destination, like Lake of the Woods," Drewes said. "If you look at the waters in the state where you can go and have a reasonable opportunity to catch a 42-inch, 22-pound pike, those are two waters that would be on the top of the state list. So it's a unique opportunity, and people want to use that opportunity to market another attraction for Upper Red Lake."

Reach Dokken at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: FISHING
Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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