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June 2016


First state muskie catch-and-release record set; flathead mark bested

It may be called “the fish of 10,000 casts” but on June 25 it took five casts for an angler to set Minnesota’s first catch-and-release state record for muskellunge.

Andrew Slette of Hawley was fishing with a top-water lure when he hooked the huge muskie that measured 56-7/8 inches long with an estimated girth of 25-1/2 inches on Pelican Lake in Otter Tail County. Fishing with him was Josh Karch, who not only witnessed the record, but also himself caught and released a 52-inch muskie and one smaller muskie that day.

“We now have our first muskie catch-and-release state record, and it certainly sounds like it came out of a memorable day of fishing for both these anglers,” said Mike Kurre, who manages the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ record fish program.

Flathead catfish record broken
The catch-and-release flathead catfish record was also broken in June.

Jacob Robinson of Shakopee caught and released a big cat that measured 49 inches long and had a girth of 32-1/2 inches. It was 2 inches longer than the previous record. Robinson landed the fish at 3 p.m., June 7, while fishing from the shore of the Minnesota River in Scott County using a live bullhead and 100-pound test line.

Robinson’s line has broken off after hooking at least three other fish that he considered being in the same class as the one he landed.

Anglers can set state records for certified weight for most fish species, or catch-and-release length for muskie, lake sturgeon and flathead catfish. Guidelines differ for each type of record and application forms are available at

In addition to the DNR’s record program, anglers have the 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

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Ruffed grouse counts up, sharp-tailed grouse down from last year

Minnesota’s ruffed grouse spring drumming counts were up 18 percent statewide this year compared to last year, according to a survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“Ruffed grouse populations tend to rise and fall on a 10-year cycle and counts this year are typical of what we expect during the rising phase of the cycle, which we are seeing now,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader.

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. For the past 67 years, DNR biologists have monitored ruffed grouse populations. This year, DNR staff and cooperators from 14 organizations surveyed 126 routes across the state.

The 2016 survey results for ruffed grouse were 1.3 drums per stop statewide. The averages during 2013 and 2014 and 2015 were 0.9 and 1.1 and 1.1, 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 a year of no change from 2014 to 2015. While it can be difficult to explain year-to-year variation, the lack of change in last year’s results followed a cold, wet spring of 2014, which may have hurt grouse production.  

In the northeast survey region, which is the core of Minnesota’s grouse range, counts were 1.5 drums per stop; in the northwest there were 1.1 drums per stop; in the central hardwoods, 0.8 drums per stop; and in the southeast, 0.8 drums per stop.

Sharp-tailed grouse counts down slightly
To count sharp-tailed grouse, observers look for males displaying on traditional mating areas, which are called leks or dancing grounds.

“The data on sharp-tailed grouse take some interpretation, because survey results can be influenced by how many leks are counted or changes in how many birds are at each lek year to year,” Roy said. “The average number of sharp-tailed grouse was similar this year compared to 2015, but we may be looking at a decline when considering changes in the number of leks counted or changes at the same leks counted in both years.”

Comparisons of the same leks counted in both years indicate that counts per lek were down in the northwest region and statewide. In the east-central region, birds counted per lek was statistically unchanged, but fewer leks were counted, likely indicating that birds are combining into fewer leks but maintaining the average lek size.

This year’s statewide average of 9.5 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 2016 grouse survey report, which contains information on ruffed grouse and sharp-tailed grouse, is available online at

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Mille Lacs bass anglers encouraged to submit fishing reports

Mille Lacs Lake bass anglers can help state fisheries managers learn even more about the lake’s top-notch bass fishery by submitting their fishing reports online, a service provided through a partnership between the Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota BASS Nation.
“The bass fishing on Mille Lacs Lake is outstanding and continues to grow in popularity,” said Mike McInerny, DNR fisheries research biologist. “The angler-submitted information is valuable data that, when gathered over a number of years, can complement and enhance what we are able to collect through lake surveys.”
The lake’s productive bass fishery has generated enough buzz in recent years to score a spot on the national stage. This September, the Mille Lacs area will host the Bassmaster Elite Series “Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship” – a world-class event that will bring the nation’s best bass anglers to Mille Lacs.
Whether novice or pro, all bass anglers are encouraged to provide information on number of fish caught, fish size, angler effort and more at Anglers can do this after a fishing trip or while fishing. Once logged in, anglers can go back and see how they did on past trips, as the site will store that information for them.
The DNR and Minnesota BASS Nation have partnered for more than 12 years to collect data from bass anglers. Anglers interested in bass fishing can participate not only on Mille Lacs Lake, but on any lake in the state.
“For more than 30 years the DNR has partnered with organizations to look at angler diaries, particularly with muskellunge anglers. This tool for bass anglers works statewide and gives us more information than we can collect by ourselves about bass and bass fishing,” McInerny said.
Submitting the information is voluntary and provides the DNR with reliable estimates of size structure of bass in lakes these anglers fish. Size structure is the proportion of small bass to large bass, and this information is used as an indicator of growth and survival of bass.

Learn more about bass fishing in Minnesota at

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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

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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

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

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

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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 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

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