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Fond du Lac survey finds plenty of large walleyes in Fish Lake

Each spring, fisheries workers with the Fond du Lac band of Lake Superior Chippewa use electro-fishing to capture and mark walleyes on a number of off-reservation lakes in the ceded territory.

Big muskie
Bill Blust, a fisheries technician with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, releases a 50½-inch muskie into the St. Louis River on Tuesday after tagging, weighing and measuring the fish. DNR crews from Minnesota and Wisconsin were trapping muskies on the river to monitor their population. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Each spring, fisheries workers with the Fond du Lac band of Lake Superior Chippewa use electro-fishing to capture and mark walleyes on a number of off-reservation lakes in the ceded territory.

This year, said Fond du Lac fisheries biologist Brian Borkholder, the work went especially fast.

"We finished three weeks before we started last year," Borkholder said.

His team does its electro-fishing when walleyes are in the shallows, spawning. This year, they started April 5 and finished April 16 on Crooked Lake near Finland.

Each fish is marked with a clipped fin so that it can be identified during a recapture process by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources during its summer assessment netting. The mark-and-recapture process is a common method for estimating the size of fish populations.

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Fish Lake north of Duluth was one of the lakes that Fond du Lac electro-fished this spring.

"There are a lot of fish in Fish Lake," Borkholder said. "We saw a lot of fish and a lot of big fish."

He's talking walleyes.

His crew marked about 2,600 walleyes in three nights, Borkholder said.

Perch, too, have already spawned on most lakes, he said.

"If things continue the way they have been, the walleyes will be a month past the spawn on opener [May 15]," he said. They'll be in summer patterns then, not late spring patterns."

Regulations that require Upper Red Lake anglers to release smaller walleyes during the first month of the open water season will again be in effect this year, according to a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources news release.

From the fishing opener on Saturday, May 15, through Monday, June 14, anglers must release all walleyes from 17 to 26 inches long. Starting June 15, anglers must immediately release all walleyes from 20 to 26 inches long. During both time periods, anglers can possess no more than four fish and only one of those fish can be longer than 26 inches.

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The walleye size limit will revert back to the 17- to 26-inch protected range on Wednesday, Dec. 1, for the winter angling season. The possession limit will remain at four fish.

"One year-round regulation would be less complex but this set of regulations provides a good balance of resource protection and angler opportunity on Upper Red Lake," said Gary Barnard, DNR Bemidji area fisheries supervisor.

A more restrictive size limit is necessary for the early season when angler catch rates are high and mature spawning walleye are extremely vulnerable.

Here's an update on several outdoor bills being considered in the Minnesota Legislature. The Legislature likely will wrap up in early May, but action has slowed this past week as many legislators geared up for this weekend's state Democratic convention.

* Walk-in program for hunters: The Senate Game and Fish Bill has included funding for this program, which would pay willing farmers to open their land to public hunting. Similar programs are popular in the Dakotas. The House has no language about walk-in hunting in its Game and Fish Bill, Meier said.

"We're just in a holding pattern," he said.

* Boat landing development: Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, has introduced a bill in the House that would put a moratorium on boat landing development to slow the potential spread of invasive species. The measure is part of the House Game and Fish Bill, said Bob Meier, assistant commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR is working with Dill to try to modify the language in the bill to allow boat access development on lakes that currently have no access, provided there's an invasive species plan in place, Meier said.

* Fishing license fee increase: It appears that may not pass this year, and the DNR is not pushing for it, Meier said. Currently, there's language for a fee increase in the Senate Game and Fish Bill, but not in the House version.

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"While we recognize the need, we think it's a little premature," Meier said. "We've asked the Budget Oversight Committee to take a more holistic view of fishing license fees, hunting license fees, the stamps, and get back to us with a proposal for next session."

* "Definitions" bill passes Senate: A bill repealing expanded specific definitions meant to guide spending recommendations for the Outdoor Heritage Fund passed the Senate about 10 days ago. There's no companion bill in the House currently, but a definitions repeal is included in an amended omnibus finance bill.

The expanded definitions, added by the House at the end of last year's legislative session, were for the words "restore," "enhance" and "protect." Many in the outdoor community and the DNR opposed the definitions because they would have restricted the kinds of projects that qualified for Outdoor Heritage Funds.

The Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward will sponsor the first ever Hayward Crappie Contest on the Wisconsin fishing opener, May 1. Registration is $10, and anglers will have a chance at a first prize (adult category) of a U.S. savings bond that matures to $3,500 ($1,750 original value). First prize in the youth division (15 and under) is a savings bond that matures to $2,000. The event will be held on more than 300 eligible lakes in the Hayward area. Weigh-in from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Fishing Hall of Fame. Register at any of 48 Holiday stations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. For details, go to www.freshwater-fishing.org .

Related Topics: FISHING
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