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New northern pike zones, regulations coming in Minnesota

A northern pike comes to the boat. New Minnesota regulations on northern pike become effective with the May 12 fishing opener. News Tribune file photo

You'll need a map to fish northern pike in Minnesota once fishing season opens on May 12.

New northern pike regulations take effect opening day, and the limits vary across three northern pike zones that have been established by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

In northern Minnesota, U.S. Highway 53 separates the Northeast Zone from the North-Central Zone. A third zone covers the southern part of the state.

The new regulations and a map of zones are highlighted in the new Minnesota Fishing Regulations online (mndnr.gov/pike) and available at license agents now.

While not designed to manage for trophy pike, the new regulations are meant to restore pike populations in sizes that make good table fare, up to around 28 inches or so, DNR fisheries officials said.

The move toward new regulations was a response to anglers' concerns about the overabundance of "hammer-handle" pike in much of central to north-central Minnesota and a desire to protect large pike in the northeastern part of the state, officials said.

Here are the new regulations for open-water fishing:

  • North-Central Zone: Limit of 10 northern pike, but not more than two pike longer than 26 inches; all from 22 to 26 inches must be released.
  • Northeast Zone: Two pike; anglers must release all from 30 to 40 inches, with only one over 40 inches allowed in possession.
  • Southern Zone: Two pike; minimum size 24 inches.

Darkhouse spearing regulations for pike also have changed, and those regulations are listed in the spearing section of the regulations booklet.

The new pike regulations do not affect border waters fishing regulations and special or experimental regulations that cover individual lakes, rivers and streams.

Previously, the statewide regulation for northern pike was a three-fish limit with only one over 30 inches (except on lakes where special regulations were in effect).

The changes were made after a series of public meetings seeking comments, but many anglers aren't aware of the coming changes.

"I haven't heard much about it," said John Chalstrom of Chalstrom's Bait and Tackle north of Duluth. "Most people don't know anything about the new pike regulations."

Chalstrom has seen the new regulations.

"I understand we're in the business of sportfishing, and I'd love for management to create places where people can go and catch a lot of big fish. But I'm still trying to understand the benefits of the new plan."

Ken Roy at River Rat Bait in Cohasset said he understands that the DNR is "trying to figure out how to get some of these fish to grow a little larger." He said anglers he's heard from aren't too concerned about the changes, but spearers are. Spearing regulations in the North-Central Zone allow spearers to keep 10 pike, but only one between 22 and 26 inches and one over 26 inches; or 10 in total but only two over 26 inches.

"The spearers are saying, 'How am I going to be able to tell if a fish is 26 inches long in the water?' " Roy said.

Some are, said Rick Guertin, president of the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association. But he said he believes the regulations for the North-Central Zone are appropriate.

"Basically, the science looks good," said Guertin, of Grand Rapids. "When you have 62 percent of all fish in that 22- to 26-inch range that are likely to be females, that's a key number. If they're protected, you should eventually see more of those 27-inchers, the 5-pounders."

Because spearers are allowed one pike within the 22-to-26-inch slot limit and one over, they have some flexibility, he said.

"For spearers, your first fish is free," said Chris Kavanaugh, DNR regional fisheries supervisor at Grand Rapids. "You don't have to worry about the size of the fish. But the next one, you'd better be sure it's under 22 or over 26."

That flexibility in the regulation allowed many spearfishers to accept it, Guertin said.

Scott VanValkenburg at Fisherman's Corner in Pike Lake said he's heard little feedback from anglers about the new regulations but understands the DNR's desire to manage for larger pike.

"People like to catch those big pike," he said. "And the 10-fish limit (in the North-Central Zone) — I don't think there's anything wrong with that reg. That's a good idea. Maybe it'll thin out a lot of the little ones that feed on the walleye fry."

And he said a lot of his customers target smaller pike for pickling.

"They like 'em about 20 to 22 inches because in those smaller ones, the bones dissolve. I think they'd be happy about that regulation," VanValkenburg said.

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