This past week I fished Lake of the Woods for the first time since a new protected slot and bag limit for walleye and saugers took effect.
Since Dec. 1 the daily limit has been eight, with no more than four walleyes allowed. Walleyes measuring 19.5 to 28 inches must be released, with one more than 28 inches allowed.
Starting May 14 the limit drops to six, of which four can be walleyes.
I wish I could report that I released a lot of fish in the protected slot and exercised my allowance for a plus-28 incher, but I caught nothing longer than 16 inches.
I talked to several locals about the new regulations. They agreed the time had come to reduce the bag limit. Even vast Lake of the Woods -- 950,000 acres just on the American side -- is susceptible to fishing pressure.
But nobody wanted the protected slot. Said one angler: "Most of us release those fish anyway. But here's the strong arm of the law coming in and telling us to do what we already do."
Said another: "We had 100 percent agreement on lowering the limit. But the slot has its pros and cons."
Tom Heinrich, DNR large lake specialist in Baudette, told me by phone that a reduced bag limit without a protected slot would not have accomplished the DNR's goal of reducing the total annual harvest from 630,000 pounds to 450,000.
"Summer harvest averages 388,000 pounds," Heinrich said. "Going to a five-fish limit would have brought us to 376,000 pounds. Going to a four-fish limit would have brought us to 355,000 pounds. That leaves about 100,000 pounds for the other three seasons, and it's always a lot higher than that, especially in winter."
From 1981 to 1994 the highest winter harvest was 95,000 pounds. But in 2002-03 it was 402,000 pounds and in 2003-04 it was 320,000 pounds.
So the boom in ice fishing is what spiked Lake of the Wood's annual harvest past the acceptable range and brought on the new regulations.
VINCE MEYER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5862.
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