If you like to catch and keep a lot of “eating-sized’’ walleyes, then Island Lake Reservoir just north of Duluth might be the place for you this summer.
Starting with the May 15 fishing opener, the walleye limit on Island Lake will go from six daily to 10 walleyes daily, but they all must be under 15 inches. All walleyes 15 to 20 inches must be immediately released, and anglers can keep one walleye daily over 20 inches.
The increased limit is an effort to reduce the overall number of walleyes in the lake but hopefully improve the average size. Walleyes in the lake reproduce well but grow unusually slowly, and a shortage of quality food may be an issue. Anglers for decades have complained that Island Lake walleyes are plentiful but too small.
DNR surveys found the same thing for the 10,800-acre lake, an average size of about 12 inches, down from about 17 inches 40 years ago.
“The regulation has been approved and will statutorily go into effect on March 1,’’ said Dan Wilfond, DNR fisheries specialist who shepherded the change through the system. But because the walleye season is closed from March 1 through May 14, the functional beginning of the regulation will be the spring fishing opener on May 15.
The increased limit compares to the general limit of six walleyes daily in Minnesota, although many lakes have four-walleye limits and there's a push at the state Legislature to lower the statewide limit to four walleyes daily for lakes that don't have special regulations.
The Island Lake proposal, first reported in the News Tribune last year, received generally favorable comments from the public. The change went through the DNR’s usual rulemaking process and was approved by the DNR commissioner.
The new regulations should make it into the new regulations handbook coming out for the upcoming open water season. Wilfond said signs have been ordered announcing the new limits and will be placed at all public landings on the lake.
Island Lake will have the highest walleye limit in the state and may be one of the first lakes anywhere in the Northland to have a higher limit intended on increasing the average size of walleyes by decreasing competition for what appears to be limited food, namely baitfish.
In addition to lack of food, Wilfond has said Island Lake walleyes may be impacted by spiny water fleas. In 1990 Island Lake became the first inland lake in Minnesota confirmed with the invasive species (a Eurasian native that likely arrived in the Twin Ports in the ballast of ships) and it appears walleye growth has slowed even more since they arrived.
Spiny water fleas are one reason Wilfond also has proposed introducing coldwater cisco into the lake. Studies show cisco could thrive in Island Lake, especially in the coolwater deep zones of the reservoir. Cisco eat spiny water fleas. And cisco — a member of the lake herring family — also would provide very hardy, high-calorie meals for walleyes (and musky) and likely spur growth rates.
The cisco introduction was not part of the Island Lake walleye regulation change and has not yet been approved by the DNR.
"The cisco introduction is definitely still being considered but unfortunately we are not really a whole lot closer to identifying a suitable donor population,'' Wilfond said. "There are unresolved challenges related to finding a source population that will satisfy genetic concerns. Since the reservoir system ultimately connects to Lake Superior (via the Cloquet and St. Louis rivers) the department is approaching the introduction of cisco with caution and due diligence."
Wilfond said two prospective inland cisco populations were genetically genotyped from samples collected in 2020 and were unable to be assigned to a Lake Superior genetic lineage, ruling them out for Island Lake.