Anglers fishing Minnesota inland waters will encounter major changes to northern pike regulations come Saturday's Minnesota fishing opener.

The regulations split the state into three management zones-Northeast, North-central and Southern-with different regulations for each zone. While not designed to manage for trophy pike, the new regulations are meant to restore pike populations for better harvest opportunities across the state for sizes that make good table fare, up to about 28 inches or so.

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In north-central Minnesota, which includes Bemidji and other parts of northwest Minnesota, anglers can keep 10 northern pike under the new regulations, but no more than two of those fish can be longer than 26 inches. All fish from 22 inches to 26 inches must be released.

The regulation aims to remove smaller pike while protecting larger fish, said Gary Barnard, area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji.

"There is no reason not to keep the surplus smaller pike and folks now can do that," Barnard said. "And the guys fishing for northern pike who want to harvest a nice 4- or 5-pound fish will also have that opportunity.

"The goal of the new regulation is to shift the size structure of the population to somewhat larger fish but not to stockpile the larger northern pike."

A handful of Bemidji-area lakes, including those in the Turtle River Chain, have been governed by special northern pike regulations for a few years and those regulations will continue. Lake of the Woods and Upper Red, where special pike regulations also have been in place, won't be affected by the regulation change, either.

"I'm excited about the potential benefits of the new northern pike regulation" in north-central Minnesota, Barnard said. "The new regulation has a good chance of making a difference, and I think anglers will be able to perceive that difference down the road."

DNR fisheries crews should be able to detect the changes during their population studies.

"I think we will see positive differences before 10 years," Barnard said. "The move to more northern pike in the 22- to 26-inch range will kick in sooner, but the reduction of smaller pike, if it happens, may take awhile."

In the Northeast Zone, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, anglers will be allowed two northern pike in possession. Only one can be longer than 40 inches, and all pike from 30 inches to 40 inches must be released.

The Southern Zone regulation also allows two pike, but the minimum size is 24 inches.

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