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Minnesota News
Minnesota News

From the Minnesota DNR:

Ruffed grouse counts down, sharp-tailed grouse down too

Breeding duck and Canada goose numbers improved from last year

DNR considering changes to Lake of the Woods walleye and sauger regulations

Estimate of Mille Lacs walleye population underway

New State Fish Records Broken

Walleye egg take a success despite squeeze of late ice-out


Ruffed grouse counts down, sharp-tailed grouse down too

Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were down 29 percent statewide this year compared to last year, according to a survey conducted by the Department of Natural Resources.
“Surveys indicate the peak occurred last year,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader. “Grouse populations tend to rise and fall on a decade-long cycle and counts this year are pointing to the peak lasting only one year this cycle. This has occurred before, but it’s always nice when the cycle stays high a little longer.”
Drumming is a low sound produced by males as they beat their wings rapidly and in increasing frequency to signal the location of their territory. Drumming displays also attract females that are ready to begin nesting. Ruffed grouse populations are surveyed by counting the number of male ruffed grouse heard drumming on established routes throughout the state’s forested regions.
Drumming counts are an indicator of the ruffed grouse breeding population. The number of birds present during the fall hunting season also depends upon nesting success and chick survival during the spring and summer.
“If production of young birds is low during the summer months, hunters may see fewer birds than expected based on counts of drumming males in the spring,” Roy said. “Conversely, when production of young is high, hunters may see more birds in the fall.”
For the past 69 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations. This year, DNR staff and cooperators from 16 organizations surveyed 122 routes across the state.
The 2018 survey results for ruffed grouse were 1.5 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 were 0.9, 1.1, 1.1, 1.3 and 2.1 respectively. Counts vary from about 0.6 drums per stop during years of low grouse abundance to about 2.0 during years of high abundance.
Results this year follow an increase from 2016 to 2017. In the northeast survey region, which is the core of Minnesota’s grouse range, counts were 1.7 drums per stop; in the northwest there were 1.0 drums per stop; in the central hardwoods, 0.9 drums per stop; and in the southeast, 0.9 drums per stop. 

Sharp-tailed grouse counts down
To count sharp-tailed grouse, observers look for males displaying on traditional mating areas, which are called leks or dancing grounds.
Comparisons of the same leks counted in both years indicate that counts per lek were down compared to last year in the northwest and statewide. Declines in the east-central region were not significant, likely because fewer leks were counted compared to last year, and loss of small leks does not reduce the index.
This year’s statewide average of 9.3 sharp-tailed grouse per lek was similar to the long-term average since 1980. The 2009 average of 13.6 was as high as during any year since 1980. During the last 25 years, the sharp-tailed grouse index has been as low as seven birds counted per dancing ground.
The DNR’s 2018 grouse survey report and grouse hunting information can be found at mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse.
grouse index
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Breeding duck and Canada goose numbers improved from last year

blue-winged teal drakePopulation counts showed good results for several species of ducks that nest in Minnesota, according to the results of the annual Department of Natural Resources spring waterfowl surveys.
“Mallard, blue-winged teal and Canada goose counts were all improved from last year,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “The survey is designed for mallards and our breeding mallard population remains above its long-term average.”
This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 295,000, which is 38 percent above last year’s estimate of 214,000 breeding mallards and 30 percent above the long-term average measured each year since 1968.
The blue-winged teal population is 191,000 this year, 20 percent above last year’s estimate and 10 percent below the long-term average.
The combined populations of other ducks such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads is 207,000, which is 21 percent lower than last year and 15 percent above the long-term average.
The estimate of total breeding duck abundance (excluding scaup) is 693,000, which is 9 percent higher than last year and 12 percent above the long-term average.
The estimated number of wetlands was 1 percent lower than last year and 4 percent above the long-term average. Wetland numbers can vary greatly based on annual precipitation.
The survey is used to estimate the number of breeding ducks or breeding geese that nest in the state rather than simply migrate through. In addition to the counts by the DNR, the continental waterfowl population estimates will be released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this summer.

DNR survey methods
The same waterfowl survey has been done each year since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 40 percent of Minnesota and includes much of the state’s best remaining duck breeding habitat.
A DNR waterfowl biologist and pilot count all waterfowl and wetlands along established survey routes by flying low-level aerial surveys from a fixed-wing plane. The survey is timed to begin in early May to coincide with peak nesting activity of mallards. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides ground crews who also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes. These data are then used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.

Canada geese
This year’s Canada goose population was estimated at 162,000 geese, similar to last year’s estimate of 152,000 geese and 2 percent above the long-term average.
“We had very unusual weather conditions this spring, with the mid-April blizzard and record late ice-outs. April temperatures were the third coldest on record and May temperatures were the fourth warmest on record,” Cordts said. “This likely impacted geese more than ducks, with an extremely late, and probably reduced, goose hatch.”  

The 2018 Minnesota waterfowl report is available at mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.

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DNR considering changes to Lake of the Woods walleye and sauger regulations

Angling regulations on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River in northern Minnesota would change under a proposal being considered by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to reduce the number of walleye and sauger allowed to be kept in the winter on the lake, and on the river allowing only catch-and-release fishing for those fish in the spring.
“We recently went through a public process of updating the Lake of the Woods Fisheries Management Plan and identified several potential areas of concern with regard to current levels of harvest,” said Phil Talmage, Baudette fisheries supervisor. “That’s why we’re discussing these potential changes.”
The proposed changes would reduce the aggregate limit of walleye and sauger in the winter to align with the summer regulations on Lake of the Woods, and make spring angling on the Rainy River catch-and-release for walleye and sauger. The changes would go into effect starting March 1, 2019.
Anglers will see yellow signs at public water accesses around Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River later this month notifying the public of the proposal. Future news releases will provide the details of a formal public comment period during the fall, and will include ways to provide comment to the DNR on the proposal.
For more information on Lake of the Woods management go to mndnr.gov/lakeofthewoods.

UPDATE: Lake of the Woods fisheries management plan open house July 24
A draft five-year plan that guides fisheries management activities for Lake of the Woods will be discussed at a public open house on Tuesday, July 24. The open house will be from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Lake of the Woods Ambulance garage, 111 First St. SW in Baudette.
“This open house will let participants ask questions and submit comments. No presentation will be made so people can arrive at any time,” said Phil Talmage, Baudette area fisheries supervisor. “The open house also serves as an opportunity to meet new staff in the Baudette area fisheries office.”
The plan outlines proposed five-year fish population objectives and management actions for walleye, sauger, northern pike and lake sturgeon. The draft management plan was developed in partnership with the 14-member Lake of the Woods Fisheries Input Group comprised of a diverse group of stakeholders with an interest in the popular border lake.
A 30-day online public comment period ended July 11. Additional comments can be submitted in writing at the public open house and through Wednesday, Aug. 15. The updated Lake of the Woods Management Plan will be finalized early this fall.
More information about Lake of the Woods and the draft fisheries management plan can be found on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/lakeofthewoods.

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Estimate of Mille Lacs walleye population underway

In early May, more than 20,000 walleye were tagged in Lake Mille Lacs. The effort will provide a better estimate of the lake’s population of walleye 14 inches or longer and help guide how many fish can safely be harvested in future seasons, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The DNR has conducted similar population estimates six times on Lake Mille Lacs. Those estimates have placed the lake’s walleye population as high as 1.1 million fish in 2002 and as low as 249,000 fish in 2014. A decline in the walleye population has led to restrictive regulations aimed at protecting existing adult fish and a particularly abundant year class of walleye that hatched in 2013. Fish from that 2013 year class are now large enough to be counted in the population estimate.
“We understand the importance of Lake Mille Lacs. Gathering this information will enhance our knowledge of walleye populations and allow us to provide the best walleye angling opportunities possible,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.
Tagging concluded on May 10 and was conducted by the DNR, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and citizen volunteers. Walleye were caught in trap nets and via electrofishing. Each fish 14 inches or longer was outfitted with two yellow tags near the base of its dorsal fin.
Since May 20, DNR fisheries staff have been recapturing tagged walleye using gill nets that are set for less than an hour. As the nets are retrieved, tag data is recorded, and all fish are released.
Based on the number of walleye that were originally tagged and the total number of tagged fish that turn up during the recapture, the DNR can make an accurate estimate of the lake’s walleye population. This type of population estimate is used in addition to the gillnet survey conducted each fall.
“We anticipate the population estimate being conducted will show a stable walleye population dominated by the 2013 year class,” said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief. “The population estimate that is underway also will give us valuable information to help evaluate how well our population model is working.”
Recapture work will continue until late June, so anglers should be aware of DNR-netting activity, which may be occurring during the evening. DNR nets are marked with labelled buoys.
Anglers who catch a tagged walleye are asked to leave the tags in the fish and record numbers on both tags by writing down the numbers or by photographing the tags. Consider recording the length of the fish and the location where it was caught. This information can be reported at mndnr.gov/tagged-fish. In return, anglers will receive information collected at the time the fish was tagged and any information submitted by anglers who may have previously reported the fish.
Walleye fishing on Lake Mille Lacs is open to catch-and-release angling only through the summer 2018 season. Handling fish gently and releasing them as quickly as possible will increase chances that released walleye will survive to be caught again.

More information about Lake Mille Lacs can be found at mndnr.gov/millelacslake

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New State Fish Records Broken

Angler sets new benchmark for lake sturgeon catch-and-release record

record lake sturgeonAn angler from Stillwater has set a new record for lake sturgeon in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ catch-and-release category.
Jack Burke and fishing buddy Michael Orgas were recently on a lake sturgeon fishing trip to remember. Fishing on the Rainy River in Koochiching County, the duo was having a lot of success fishing for Minnesota’s biggest fish, landing 20 fish in three days including six lake sturgeon over 60 inches before hooking into the new state record – a 73-inch long lake sturgeon.
“We had been having some great action and knew there were big fish in the Rainy River,” Burke said. “This particular fish took about 45 minutes to reel in. When we got it closer to the boat it blew some bubbles and came to the top; I knew it was a huge fish!”
Burke caught the fish on May 4, around 11 a.m. using a muskie rod supplied by his fishing partner Orgas, with 80-pound braided line rigged with a circle hook and crawlers. The fish measures 73 inches in length and 30 inches in girth. This beats the previous record by 3 inches that was set by two separate anglers who both boated 70-inch fish on the same day in April 2017.
There are two kinds of Minnesota state records: one for catching and keeping the biggest fish in each species based on certified weight; and the other for the length of a caught and released muskellunge, northern pike, lake sturgeon or flathead catfish.
The DNR announces new state records in news releases, on social media and on the DNR website. Find current records and guidelines for each type of state record at mndnr.gov/recordfish.

A whopper silver redhorse sets new state record

record silver redhorseAvid angler Dustin Stone caught a new state record silver redhorse in the certified weight category of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ record fish program.
Stone caught the 10-pound, 6-ounce silver redhorse while fishing for lake sturgeon on the Rainy River in Koochiching County on April 28. He was fishing with 80-pound braided line tipped with a night crawler.
“We had been doing very well fishing for sturgeon, landing seven fish over the 60-inch mark,” Stone said. “We started catching a bunch of suckers and redhorse before this fish, so this fish felt quite a bit bigger than the others.”
Fortunately for Stone, his fishing buddy had extensive knowledge about fish like silver redhorse, and Stone almost released the fish until his partner advised him to check the weight and current record on that species of fish.
The new state record silver redhorse was weighed on a certified scale at a meat shop in Granite Falls, where two observers witnessed the weighing. Two DNR fisheries experts in the Ortonville office confirmed the species identification of silver redhorse. The official weight is 10-pounds, 6-ounces with a length of 26-3/4 inches and a girth of 17-1/2 inches, beating the previous state record of 9-pounds, 15-ounces held since 2004.
“I’m glad the DNR does this record fish program. It’s fun to see the records. I’m kind of addicted to this now and I’m going to try and break a couple more!” Stone said.
There are two kinds of Minnesota state records: one for catching and keeping the biggest fish of each species based on certified weight; and the other for the length of a caught and released muskellunge, northern pike, lake sturgeon or flathead catfish.
The DNR announces new state records in news releases, on social media and on the DNR website. Find current records and guidelines for each type of state record at mndnr.gov/recordfish.

Angler breaks state record for golden redhorse

GoldenRedhorseAngler Ethan Rasset has broken the state record for golden redhorse in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ certified weight category.
Rasset caught the 4-pound, 8-ounce redhorse on the Otter Tail River after setting out April 7 with his fishing buddies to lure some roughfish like carp into biting. His rod was rigged with a green artificial twister-tail bait with 15-pound test line when the fish hit in the early afternoon.
“I had to make one last cast into a spot where I knew there was a deep hole,” Rasset said. “I thought it was a greater or silver redhorse at first because of its size, but as I got it closer to shore and I saw it flicker I knew it was a big golden.”
Rasset took the fish to a store in Moorhead to get the fish weighed on a certified scale, where two observers witnessed the weighing. Two fisheries experts from the Fergus Falls DNR office confirmed that the species of the fish was in fact a golden redhorse.
The golden redhorse has been a popular record fish in the past few years with new state records broken in four of the last five years. In 2014, the record was set at 4 pounds, was broken in 2016 with a 4-pound 4-ounce fish; broken again in 2017 with a 4-pound 7-ounce fish; and now the new state record is Rasset’s golden redhorse weighing 4 pounds 8 ounces and measuring 22-1/2 inches in length and 12-3/4 inches in girth.
There are two kinds of Minnesota state records: one for catching and keeping the biggest fish in each species based on certified weight; and the other for the length of a caught and released muskellunge, northern pike, lake sturgeon or flathead catfish.
The DNR announces new state records in news releases, on social media and on the DNR website. Find current records and guidelines for each type of state record at mndnr.gov/recordfish.

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Walleye egg take a success despite squeeze of late ice-out

This spring’s late ice-out meant a shorter window of time for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to take walleye eggs for annual fish stocking but despite a two-week late start the agency collected enough eggs to meet stocking goals.
“Our crews put in some extra-long days to handle the high numbers of fish this year,” said Chris Kavanaugh, northeast region fisheries manager. “Their work will benefit anglers who fish many of the more than 1,000 lakes stocked with walleyes by DNR.”
This year’s 10 egg-take operations met their goal of collecting 4,100 quarts of eggs. With each quart containing an estimated 120,000 eggs, that’s about 492 million walleye eggs and is comparable to the average taken in past years.
The DNR operates the largest walleye hatchery operation in the United States, and stocks 1,050 managed lakes on a rotating schedule that is prescribed by individual lake management plans.
After taking eggs and fertilizing them with walleye milt, the eggs are taken to hatcheries where they take about three weeks to hatch in specialized jars. Two-thirds of the fry are stocked directly into lakes within a few days of hatching. Roughly one-third of the fry hatched each year by the DNR are kept in rearing ponds throughout the summer and are stocked as fingerlings in the fall. It takes 3 to 4 years for a walleye to reach keeper size in Minnesota – about 14 to 15 inches.
A vast majority of the walleye caught by Minnesota anglers come from waters where the fish reproduce naturally – about 260 larger walleye lakes and in large rivers. But because of stocking, walleye can be found in an additional 1,050 Minnesota lakes spread throughout the state. This year’s walleye fishing season opens Saturday, May 12.
“Without good water quality, natural habitat and a healthy prey base, even aggressive stocking measures won’t improve walleye fishing on a lake that can’t support it,” Kavanaugh said.
In this season of egg-take operations Cut Foot Sioux near Deer River and Pike River near Tower experienced large numbers of fish in the traps after the first day and both operations were able to meet their goals in three days instead of the normal 6 to 8 days.
Spawning is a naturally stressful activity for fish. Egg take operations are staffed 24 hours a day so dissolved oxygen levels in the water and crowding can be monitored to minimize fish losses.
Fish spawning is triggered by day length and water temperature. The Pike River site has dark water that warms more quickly when the sun shines. Once the ice went out, water temperatures rose and the fish responded very quickly.
This year’s late ice-out could offer a silver lining for future fish numbers and anglers. Later ice-outs followed by consistently rising daily temperatures can be beneficial to developing a strong year class of walleyes. Consistently warming temperatures help create a surge in the zooplankton that provide an important food source for newly hatched fish.
The DNR’s fish hatchery operations are primarily funded by the Game and Fish Fund through fishing license revenues. Anglers can further support walleye management activities by purchasing a walleye stamp when they purchase a fishing license. They and fishing licenses are available for purchase at mndnr.gov/buyalicense.

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