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Minnesota News
Minnesota News


Duck numbers up, Canada goose numbers down since last year

Population counts are up for several species of ducks that breed in Minnesota, according to the results of the annual Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spring waterfowl surveys.

“Despite fairly dry conditions, duck numbers seemed good across all species,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.

This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 243,000, which is 18 percent above last year’s estimate of 206,000 breeding mallards, unchanged from the recent 10-year average and 7 percent above the long-term average measured since 1968.

The blue-winged teal population is 317,000 this year, 88 percent above last year’s estimate and 50 percent above the long-term average.

The combined populations of other ducks such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads is 208,000, which is 39 percent higher than last year and 17 percent above the long-term average.

The estimate of total duck abundance (excluding scaup) is 768,000, which is 47 percent higher than last year and 25 percent above the long-term average.

The estimated number of wetlands is 221,000, unchanged from last year, and 13 percent below 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 and provide an indicator of what hunters can expect this fall.

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 202,000 geese, lower than last year’s estimate of 250,000 geese. An additional 17,500 breeding Canada geese are estimated to be in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

“Even with lower numbers, goose production seems to be very good with lots of young geese across the state, following the early spring this year and early nesting effort by Canada geese,” Cordts said.

The number of breeding Canada geese in the state is estimated via a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in April. The survey includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities area and counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots located in prairie, transition and forested areas.

The 2016 Minnesota waterfowl report is available at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl

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Same day, different rivers: Catfish and sturgeon are first records

DNR News & Photos

record sturgeon

record catfish

Two anglers had a big day May 8 when they reeled in, measured, photographed and released huge fish – one caught a lake sturgeon, the other a flathead catfish – leading both to set the first catch-and-release records in an expanded Minnesota state record fish program.

“Congratulations to our first two record holders in the record program we expanded this year,” said Mike Kurre, who manages the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ record fish program. “It’s great to see these photos and applications and know there are still chances for other anglers to catch these enormous fish.”

Cindy Pawlowski of Frazee caught and released the record lake sturgeon May 8 on the Rainy River in Koochiching County. The fish was 62 7/8 inches long with a 29-inch girth, and took a gob of night crawlers at 7 a.m.

Steven DeMars of Stillwater caught and released the record flathead catfish, also on May 8, in the St. Croix River in Washington County. The fish was 47 inches long with a 30-inch girth, and took the bullhead bait at about 7:30 p.m.

The new catch-and-release length records are for muskellunge, lake sturgeon or flathead catfish and require anglers to measure and take a photograph of the fish before releasing it. Anglers can continue to set records based on certified weight, which require the fish to be harvested. Guidelines and application forms for each type of record are available at www.mndnr.gov/recordfish.

An application has yet to be presented for a caught and released muskie.

Anglers are reminded to obtain a valid license and check that the season is open before going fishing. Anglers may fish for a species only when the season is open, even when catch-and-release fishing. For tips on how to properly catch and release fish, visit www.mndnr.gov/fish/catchandrelease.html.

There is also an option to participate in the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame’s Master Angler Program, which recognizes 60 fish species. Information about that program is available at www.fishinghalloffamemn.com/master-anglers.

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Anglers can now keep 4 walleye on Upper Red Lake

Anglers on Upper Red Lake in northwestern Minnesota will be allowed to keep an additional walleye in their daily bag limit starting Wednesday, June 15.

The current three-fish bag limit, in place last winter and through the 2016 fishing opener, will be increased to four fish. The existing size regulation allowing one walleye longer than 17 inches in the daily bag will remain in effect.

“Mid-season adjustments to walleye size limits or bag limits have been common practice for managing the Upper Red Lake walleye fishery, and anglers are accustomed to them,” said Gary Barnard, Bemidji area fisheries supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

High catch rates the first few weeks after opener are fairly predictable, as are declining catch rates as the season progresses. Since fishing pressure declines along with the catch rate, more harvest opportunity can be offered later in the season with minimal effect on total walleye harvest.   

The current size regulation allowing one walleye in the daily bag longer than 17 inches has been a significant change from the protected slot limits of previous seasons on Upper Red Lake.

Visit www.mndnr.gov/fishing for more information about fishing in Minnesota.

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Anglers can help with important studies underway on Mille Lacs Lake

Anglers fishing Mille Lacs Lake can help the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources collect essential data needed for improving walleye fishing in the near future.

“Although this year’s regulations don’t let anglers keep any walleye, catching them and sharing information about your catch provides invaluable data that helps us manage the fishery,” said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief. “Walleye catch rates are pretty good so far this spring, and we ask anglers to work with us to help ensure future fishing can be even better.”

Anglers can lend a hand by participating in the annual creel survey that is done to monitor the walleye harvest. DNR creel clerks interview lake anglers on a regular schedule throughout the open water fishing season. They ask anglers about what fish are caught and their size, and count the number of individual fishing trips to estimate total hours of fishing on the lake.

The data provided by anglers is essential to helping the DNR estimate total fishing effort and walleye survival rates.

Additionally, DNR creel clerks this year will ask Mille Lacs anglers how their fish were caught and whether they used artificial or live bait. That information will inform a new two-year project looking at how many walleye do not survive after being caught and released, referred to as hooking mortality.

The hooking mortality study is a cutting-edge project to catch and release 1,500 walleye of specific sizes throughout the fishing season and under a variety of environmental conditions and fishing methods.

Other such studies have been done in Minnesota and across the country, but none have been as intensive as the Mille Lacs study, which includes a focus on bait types and additional detail on angling methods.

Anglers on the water might actually see aspects of the hooking mortality study. It will be done from boats designated with special flags or on special launches. When a walleye is caught, the boat will signal a nearby DNR shuttle boat via marine radio or air horn blast. Walleye will be immediately transferred to the shuttle boat so the DNR can take the fish to a nearby net pen.

Walleye will be kept in net pens for five days to determine how many survive after being caught;  surviving fish will then be released. Data about each fish and how it was caught will be recorded. Next year, the DNR will repeat the catching and data collection with 1,500 more walleye.

“Mille Lacs is a changing lake and some angling practices have changed,” Pereira said. “Angler help is essential to helping us secure the future of Mille Lacs as a key walleye fishing destination in our state.”

For more information about the lake and steps the DNR is taking to manage it, visit the Mille Lacs Lake home page at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake.

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