It's a battle that has been waged for years in Minnesota's waters. And around them.
Muskies vs. pike.
The bigger muskellunge rule most waters they inhabit. But not Gull Lake. They won't get the chance.
In a victory for northern pike backers - and, some say, supporters of a balanced fish population in Gull - the DNR announced it won't stock muskies in the well-known Brainerd area lake as part of a long-range plan to enhance pike and muskie fishing in the state. Instead, the DNR said Pokegama Lake in Itasca County will be added as a new muskellunge lake.
According to the DNR, while Gull has the physical and biological characteristics to support a trophy muskellunge population and muskie anglers strongly supported the idea, other anglers expressed strong concerns about the proposal.
"The connected waters on Gull was one thing that influenced things," DNR Fisheries Section Chief Ron Payer said, referring to the smaller lakes on the Gull chain and how muskies might challenge them. "Our staff looked at that and was concerned about that and decided it would be better to stock Pokegama and see if we can't find another candidate lake in that area.
"It was pretty reasonable to pick Pokegama and not Gull. But there will be folks who will have concerns either way. We've done our best to address all the interests and have a good grasp of what's going on."
Rob Carper of Fort Ripley wasn't about to disagree.
"It's good news for me and good for Gull Lake," said Carper, club tournament director for Northerns Inc., and a member of DNR roundtables and workshops involving the stocking proposal on Gull, dating back to 2006. "I always thought they had a good pike fishery there, and there was evidence that stocking muskies will affect the pike population. Our club didn't think it was a good choice of a lake."
While anglers may find the occasional muskie in Gull, the lake doesn't support a muskellunge population of note. But it offers most other Minnesota fish species of note, including pike, walleye, bass and panfish.
"It's balanced," Carper said of the fish population in Gull. "When you've got something like that do you want to mess it up? That's what our stance has been.
"One of the reasons they wanted (to stock muskies in Gull) was they thought other lakes in the area that were muskie lakes had too many muskie fishermen on them. But the fishing pressure on Gull is immense."
Travis Frank, a muskie fishing guide out of the Twin Cities area, had hoped Gull would take some of the pressure off his favorite muskie haunts.
"It would have been nice to have a lake of that size and structure that can hold a lot of muskies," said Frank, who fishes mostly Lake Mille Lacs and Lake Minnetonka. "On any given day on Minnetonka or Mille Lacs there might be 200 people casting (for muskies). It would have been awesome to have a lake like that. I was excited when I heard (about the Gull Lake proposal). But unfortunately, it didn't happen.
"But I'll take any lake they put them in. If it takes 20 fishermen off Mille Lacs, it's a good thing."
According to the DNR, 6,612-acre Pokegama has the physical and biological characteristics necessary to support a trophy muskie population.
"The majority of public comments support stocking Pokegama with muskellunge," Payer said. "It is connected to native muskie habitat in the upper Mississippi River watershed, and our managers believe the decision to stock will not affect northern pike spearing or angling opportunities on the lake."
The DNR said it will manage muskies to emphasize trophy angling opportunities in waters the fish now inhabit and will add up to eight new muskellunge lakes in the next 12 years as part of the plan.
The DNR's northern pike management plan focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of existing special and experimental regulations, modifying or dropping regulations as appropriate and potentially adding up to 19 new waters for management of large northern pike.
For more on the plan, go to www.mndnr.gov/ esocid.
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at brian.peterson@ brainerddispatch.com or 855-5864.
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