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DNR surveys confirm strong populations, good fishing on Lake of the Woods

If fall population surveys are any indication, anglers can expect to go through a lot of bait this winter on Lake of the Woods. According to Phil Talmage, area fisheries supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources in Baudette, Minn., resul...

Walleye
Submitted photo

If fall population surveys are any indication, anglers can expect to go through a lot of bait this winter on Lake of the Woods.

According to Phil Talmage, area fisheries supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources in Baudette, Minn., results from an annual September population assessment showed high numbers of 10- to 12-inch walleyes from a strong 2011 hatch and an abundance of 6- to 7-inch walleyes from a big hatch last spring.

Throw in high numbers of 9- to 10-inch saugers, and there'll be a lot of bait stealers swimming around the big lake.

"These are still going to be kind of small for people to be keeping this winter, but it's important for people to remember these are the fish of our future," Talmage said. "It's really crazy how many nicer-size fish we'll have in a year or so."

Anglers also can expect to encounter plenty of keeper-size -- and larger -- fish this winter, Talmage said, thanks to moderate hatches in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010.

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Those walleyes now are 13 inches to 17 inches, he said.

"We don't have any real big busts in that period, although 2008 was a little below average," Talmage said.

The trophy 25- to 30-plus-inch walleyes that anglers catch are old-age survivors from strong year-classes in the late '90s, 2001 and 2003, Talmage said. The sheer strength of those hatches, coupled with a 19½- to 28-inch protected slot limit, has allowed those walleyes to reach trophy size.

"There are a lot of trophy walleye opportunities," he said.

Saugers doing well

The fall survey also showed good numbers of 12- to 16-inch saugers, Talmage said. This year's survey produced an average of about 15 walleyes and 15 saugers per net. That's on par with the long-term average for walleyes and higher than the long-term average for saugers.

"The saugers were actually up a little bit from what we expected," Talmage said. "There'll be some really nice saugers out there for people this winter."

Another positive, Talmage said, was the highest perch catch in a decade, with about 20 perch per net.

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"Typical of Lake of the Woods, there's a lot of big perch out there over 12 inches," Talmage said. "We started noticing this group of fish about two years ago, and now they're just getting nicer and nicer. There's still good indication of some strong perch production below them, as well."

Pike and sturgeon also continue to thrive, Talmage said.

"Right now, everything looks real solid out there as far as how the fishery is doing on Lake of the Woods," he said.

Creel survey

The strong fish population also translated into good summer fishing. Based on results from a summer creel survey that ran from mid-May through September, anglers kept about 300,000 pounds of walleyes, which is down about 100,000 pounds from 2012 but slightly higher than the long-term average.

Anglers last winter kept about 174,000 pounds of walleyes, Talmage said, bringing the annual harvest of 474,000 pounds closer to the long-term target of 450,000 pounds.

During the winter and summer of 2012, by comparison, anglers kept 770,000 pounds of walleyes, including more than 353,000 pounds through the ice.

"Fishing was incredible in 2012 so as expected, things kind of have a way of averaging out," Talmage said.

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Overall catch rates were about the same, despite the lower harvest this year, Talmage said, meaning anglers released more fish.

Summer fishing pressure continues to pale in comparison to ice fishing. Anglers on Lake of the Woods logged about 837,000 hours on the water this past summer, compared with 1.96 million hours last winter.

Ice fishing on Lake of the Woods has been on a steady rise since the late 1990s and surpassed the 1 million hour mark in 2001. Only once, in 2002, did winter pressure dip below 1 million hours; anglers that year logged 943,000 hours on the ice.

The DNR conducts its September population assessment by setting nets at 16 sites across the U.S. portion of the lake and comparing the results from year to year. As part of the creel survey, clerks interview anglers at access points along the south shore of the lake and gather information on everything from demographics to catch rates and harvest.

The DNR plans to conduct creel surveys on Lake of the Woods two out of every four years, Talmage said, with the next surveys planned for 2016.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: FISHINGLAKE OF THE WOODS
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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