The pandemic push of more people fishing on northern Minnesota lakes, especially with Canadian lakes still off-limits, has spurred the Vermilion Lake Association to ask anglers to keep fewer fish this summer.

While it’s only voluntary there have been no formal regulation changes made by the Department of Natural Resources — the lake association has joined a coalition of fishing guides, resort owners, local businesses and the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe to ask anglers to keep only two walleyes per day instead of the legal limit of four.

The coalition also is asking that those two walleyes be between 12 and 18 inches, with all others released. State regulations allow anglers to keep four walleyes under 20 inches with one allowed over 26 inches long.

While many Minnesota resorts and tourism associations promote how many walleyes you can keep from their lakes, the Lake Vermilion effort is believed to be the first in the state to ask anglers to keep fewer fish than their legal limits.

The coalition also asks that anglers throw back all their largemouth bass and musky to keep those trophy species in the lake producing more trophies.

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“We truly care about the long-term survival of the lake,” said Terry Grosshauser, a member of the association, in a statement announcing the effort. “And that is the main reason we’re recommending conservation limits for Lake Vermilion.”

Lake Vermilion, always a popular fishing destination for Northlanders and tourists, was remarkably busy last summer with the push of people heading outdoors during the COVID-19 outbreak and with Ontario resorts off-limits due to the ongoing border closure between the U.S. and Canada. That closure seemingly had many Midwesterners going as far north as possible for their fishing trips, and that meant northern Minnesota.

Will Hanson of Pehrson Lodge Resort caught this 31-inch walleye on Lake Vermilion near Cook in 2020. Local guides, resorts, businesses and the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe are asking anglers to keep fewer of the fish they catch on Lake Vermilion this summer to prevent overharvest. (Photo courtesy of Pehrson Lodge Resort)
Will Hanson of Pehrson Lodge Resort caught this 31-inch walleye on Lake Vermilion near Cook in 2020. Local guides, resorts, businesses and the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe are asking anglers to keep fewer of the fish they catch on Lake Vermilion this summer to prevent overharvest. (Photo courtesy of Pehrson Lodge Resort)

With the border closure now expected to last well into summer 2021, the Vermilion Lake Association is bracing for another busy summer which they say could stress the famous lake’s fish populations.

“A lot of people’s futures (are) at stake here,” said Buck Lescarbeau, who owns and operates Best Bet Guide Service. “If the lake gets additional stress, it can take a long time to rebound. Just look at Mille Lacs.”

The coalition also is asking anglers to keep only five crappies instead of the legal 10.

“It’s important to note that we can only recommend these,” Grosshauser said. “These cannot be enforced. But we are just asking for the public’s help in protecting Lake Vermilion.”

Edie Evarts, Tower-area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota DNR, said the agency supports the effort to release more fish. But she said the lake’s walleye population is not in any immediate danger, even with more anglers catching more fish. Test netting in recent years shows the lake’s walleye population to be robust, she noted.

“Yes, we’re seeing more pressure on Lake Vermilion. But the walleye fishery remains very healthy. We believe it could sustain a higher harvest for a few years without any issues,” Evarts said. “But we’re never going to disagree with someone releasing a fish if they want.”

Supporters note that Minnesota resident anglers who like the idea can also purchase a conservation angling license for $17, an $8 savings over the traditional angling license. The state conservation license allows anglers to keep half the usual limit of each species. There currently is no conservation license for nonresidents.

The lake association is passing out hundreds of laminated cards with the new suggested limits that will be available through resorts, guides, bait shops and other businesses in the Cook and Tower areas around the lake.

For more information go to vermilionlakeassociation.org/conservation.

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Lake Vermilion creel survey starts May 15

Anglers fishing Lake Vermilion this summer may be asked to participate in the lake’s first creel survey since 2015.

Beginning with the walleye opener on May 15 through the end of September, creel clerks from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will be traveling the lake by boat to interview anglers about their catch.

The creel clerks will ask anglers a few questions about their fishing trip for that day and record information on the fish species caught. Creel clerks may ask to record measurements of fish that anglers keep. Additionally, DNR pilots and a local contractor will conduct aerial boat counts to obtain information on angling pressure.

Fisheries managers rely on creel surveys to collect information on fishing pressure, catch, harvest, and size distribution of several important fish species in Lake Vermilion. This information, when combined with scientific data collected during standard fisheries population assessments, is used to make informed fisheries management decisions.

Angler participation is an essential part of this study, so the DNR is asking anglers to be patient with the creel clerks and provide information that is as accurate as possible.

For more information contact Matt Hennen, DNR Tower area fisheries office, at 218-300-7810 or matthew.hennen@state.mn.us.