Minnesota has 195 lakes with special fishing regulations, including 42 with special regulations on walleye.
But anglers who launch on Crow Wing County lakes for the 2005 fishing opener Saturday can go forth unfettered by special walleye regulations -- remarkable considering how much fishing pressure walleye get on county waters. If not voluntarily released, every walleye caught within an angler's possession and length limit in Crow Wing County could be filleted and fried.
Carl Mills, manager of the DNR's Brainerd fish hatchery, removed walleye fry from a tank at the hatchery. If millions of fry were not stocked in Brainerd area lakes each spring, local anglers would have to travel to Mille Lacs or other large lakes for their walleye fishing fix.
Concerned that the walleye harvest on Pelican Lake is approaching over-harvest, the DNR last year proposed a special regulation that would have called for the release of all walleye measuring 17 to 26 inches with one fish over 26 inches allowed in the daily bag.
The proposal sank like a 30-pound anchor.
"There virtually was no support for it," said Tim Brastrup, DNR area fisheries manager. "For a regulation to work it must be understandable, acceptable, attainable and enforceable. This regulation wasn't acceptable to the public so, therefore, it didn't go."
The proposed regulation was intended to increase the average size of walleye in Pelican, but anglers evidently are satisfied with how things are. A member of the Pelican Lake Conservation Club got signatures from 1,307 people opposed to the proposed regulation. Nobody supported it at public hearings.
"What we heard was, 'It's a good fishery now, don't change it,'" Brastrup said. "Pelican has always been a harvest lake. Anglers there just want plenty of eaters. That's different from any other situation we've ever seen. Studies throughout the Upper Midwest have always shown that most anglers want to catch bigger fish."
Anglers will have plenty of lakes to choose from this Saturday on the 2005 fishing opener in their quest for walleye or northern pike.
Pelican has been stocked with 3.9 million fry every year since 1998. Every two out of three years it gets 2,900 pounds of fingerlings as well. This will continue for two more years, after which a netting assessment will be done. A list of options will be drawn up and discussed with the public. Options could include fry-only stockings with fingerling stockings saved for years when fry survival is low.
Four years ago the DNR began a fry-only stocking plan on Gull Lake and found very high survival rates.
"We hope to see the same on Pelican," Brastrup said. "The two lakes are similar."
Gull and North Long are two other area lakes where the walleye harvest is approaching over-harvest, Brastrup said.
Mostly cloudy with lows around 40. Northwest winds 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 30 percent.
Mostly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of rain. Highs 50 to 55. Saturday night will be partly cloudy and breezy with lows from 35 to 40.
Partly cloudy with highs from 55 to 60. Sunday night will be partly cloudy with lows from 35 to 40.
"We're not sure yet how the high harvest is impacting Gull because it has so many young walleye, presumably from fry stocking success. We need to figure out why there are so many small fish. Is it because of selective harvest, high survival or both?"
Walleye are not being over-harvested on the area's other top walleye lakes, which include North Long, Whitefish, Edward and Round lakes, Brastrup said.
If all of the above lakes weren't stocked they would have few walleye. Only Gull and Pelican have occasional years when the survival rate among naturally spawned walleye is substantial. No area lake has a sustainable population of naturally spawned walleye. Without stocked fish anglers would have to look elsewhere for decent walleye fishing.
So each year the DNR stocks 2.8 million fry in Gull, 3.9 million in North Long, 3.9 million in Pelican, 1 million in Edward and 627,000 in Round. It's a telling fact that the DNR stocks the lakes annually. Until recently stocking was done every second year.
Whitefish gets about 12 million fry annually because it's a "parent" lake. The DNR strips eggs from walleye swimming from the lake up the Pine River to spawn. The eggs are hatched in the Brainerd hatchery and stocked in lakes throughout the area. So that walleye tugging on your line this weekend probably can trace its roots to Whitefish, though if you're fishing on Mille Lacs or another of Minnesota's 10 largest lakes it's probably a naturally spawned fish.
Demand for walleye on area lakes isn't expected to diminish, so anglers are asked to abide by a few basic guidelines.
"Release fish over 20 inches," Brastrup said. "If you're catching a lot of fish in one size range, say 16 to 18 inches, release some of those, too. Their numbers can get knocked down pretty fast."
For northern pike, release fish over 24 inches and keep the hammerhandles. A strong base of big pike helps a lake maintain a good predator-prey balance, Brastrup said.
VINCE MEYER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5862.
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