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Heinrich moves from Lake of the Woods to Mille Lacs

Tom Heinrich

A longtime Lake of the Woods fisheries biologist has left his position at the Department of Natural Resources' area fisheries office in Baudette, Minn., to oversee management of Mille Lacs Lake.

Tom Heinrich started his new job as Mille Lacs fisheries supervisor on Wednesday, Jan. 24, and is based in Garrison, Minn.

His last day in Baudette was Jan. 19.

Heinrich brings more than three decades of fisheries and research experience to the Mille Lacs position. From 1984 until 1990, he worked in western New York as a fisheries technician on eastern Lake Erie.

He began working at the Baudette fisheries office in 1990, first as a fisheries specialist and then, in 1991, as DNR large lake specialist for Lake of the Woods.

"We're pleased that Tom Heinrich has accepted this new role," said Brad Parsons, central region fisheries manager. "He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge from other large walleye lakes in Minnesota and elsewhere, strong scientific skills and an open ability to communicate with and relate to various groups in the public."

In a phone interview, Heinrich said he and his wife, Joan, made the move to be closer to family, many of whom now live in the Brainerd, Minn., area. Working on Mille Lacs, which has been the focus of extensive research as managers try to understand and reverse a decline in walleye populations, also presents a professional challenge, Heinrich said.

"This is an important position because Mille Lacs always has been a vital and popular fishery and there is still a lot to learn about the lake and the changes we are seeing," Parsons said. "Adding Tom to the team to perform the detailed, complex work needed will benefit the resource, the DNR and groups with an interest in the lake."

Still, leaving Lake of the Woods and a community that's been part of his life for more than 27 years wasn't easy, Heinrich said.

"What I'm going to miss most is the lake itself," Heinrich, 56, said."It's such a cool lake with the fish population we've got there."

Looking back on his years on Lake of the Woods, Heinrich said he's most proud of being part of a long string of data collection on the big lake's fish population. The oldest survey info dates to 1968, and after about a 10-year gap, there's data for every year since 1981, he said.

"It's just an awesome data set to work with, and it's really great to have that kind of information available so you could see how things have changed through time," he said.

While he has spent most of his career working with walleyes, Heinrich says he also is going to miss working with sturgeon and being involved with the species' continued recovery on Lake of the Woods and Rainy River.

"They're just such a cool fish, and most of them are going to outlive me," Heinrich said.

Longtime colleague Dennis Topp, who started at the Baudette fisheries office about six months after Heinrich, said it's going to take some time to get used to his friend and co-worker living and working in another part of the state.

The community also will miss Heinrich and his wife, said Topp, who is assistant area DNR fisheries supervisor in Baudette.

"He was just involved in a whole bunch of things," Topp said. "He was very community-oriented, as was his wife.

"As far as to me professionally, there's no brighter guy in fisheries in the world than him," Topp said, adding Heinrich is leaving behind a "gold mine" of research.

The DNR has begun the process of finding a replacement for Heinrich in the Baudette office.

"Whoever steps into his shoes is going to have a good base to start with," Topp said. "He's very organized, and the (Lake of the Woods) sampling protocol is just excellent."

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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