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MAY 2018

From the Minnesota DNR:

Fishing opener: What people need to know

DNR considering changes to walleye regulations on Leech Lake

Northern pike zone regulations in effect for fishing opener

Northern pike added to state’s catch-and-release record program - Why the zones? New regulations for keeping northern pike explained

The water’s fine – or almost melted – so let’s go fishing!

With late ice-out, DNR crews face a challenge to get ramps and docks ready by fishing opener

New estimate shows healthy Mille Lacs smallmouth bass population

Spring turkey season begins

 

Fishing opener: What people need to know

The tradition of fishing opener in Minnesota centers around roughly half a million anglers going fishing the day the season opens for walleye, sauger, northern pike and trout in lakes – this year on Saturday, May 12. Here are some reminders for the 2018 fishing opener.

Take a mom fishing
Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 13, and fishing opener weekend doubles as Take a Mom Fishing Weekend. Mothers who are residents of Minnesota can fish without a license from Saturday, May 12, to Sunday, May 13. Fishing is allowed only for species that have open fishing seasons.

Wear a life jacket
Cold water kills. Anglers are reminded to not just bring it – wear a life jacket. It’s the one action most likely to help in surviving a fall into cold water. Thirty percent of boating fatalities take place in cold water defined as generally below 70 degrees. In spring, this is typically from ice-out until early summer. The cold water shock “gasp reflex” can incapacitate even the strongest swimmer if they aren’t wearing a life jacket. A life jacket gives you a fighting chance in cold water.

To keep pike, measure first
New regulations will be in effect for catching and keeping northern pike on inland waters. The pike regulations have three zones to address the different characteristics of pike populations in Minnesota. Maps, regulations and more information can be found at mndnr.gov/pike.
Anglers who plan to keep pike must be able to reliably measure their fish. To do this, lay the fish flat on its side, squeeze the tail from tip to tip, and measure from the nose or jaw (whichever is longer) to the farthest tip of the tail when fully extended.

Check regulations
Anglers are reminded to check the 2018 Minnesota Fishing Regulations Booklet, especially noting any special regulations that apply to individual lakes, rivers and streams. Regulations as well as lake information through the DNR’s LakeFinder site can be found at mndnr.gov/fishmn.

Ice out at the buzzer?
The lingering cold weather delayed ice-out on Minnesota lakes and rivers, and even if ice does go out on many lakes in time for opener, the delay was making it difficult for DNR crews to have the 1,500 public water accesses it manages ready in time. There are about 3,000 public water access sites statewide and the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division manages about half of them.
Anglers also are advised that some rivers and lakes are at flood levels. Many river access sites are under water and there are some reports of lakes with high water where boaters may be required to proceed at slow or no-wake speeds on the entire lake.
For more information including a map showing where ice-out has occurred, check mndnr.gov/wateraccess.

Possibly break a record
Anglers who catch and release northern pike can earn state records through an expansion of a DNR record fish program that previously included only lake sturgeon, muskellunge and flathead catfish in the catch-and-release category. There also is a catch-and-keep category; guidelines for both are at mndnr.gov/recordfish.

Purchase a fishing license
Anglers from the ages of 16 to 89 are required to have a valid fishing license, aside from mothers taking advantage of Take a Mom Fishing Weekend. Purchase licenses at any DNR license agent, online with a mobile or desktop device at mndnr.gov/buyalicense, or by phone at 888-665-4236. Mobile buyers receive a text or email that serves as proof of a valid fish or game license to state conservation officers. Licenses must be in anglers’ possession when fishing or traveling from an area they were fishing. The top two fishing-related regulation violations are for not having a license in possession, and not having a valid license.

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DNR considering changes to walleye regulations on Leech Lake

A proposal to allow anglers on Leech Lake in northwestern Minnesota more opportunity to keep walleye starting in 2019 will be up for consideration by the Department of Natural Resources.
“We’ve met or exceeded all of our walleye management objectives on Leech Lake in large part due to very consistent production of young walleyes over the past 10 years,” said Doug Schultz, DNR area fisheries supervisor. “For this reason we will be discussing potential relaxation of walleye regulations and asking for public comments on a proposal immediately after our fall survey work wraps up this September.”
Anglers will see yellow signs at public water accesses around Leech Lake on opening day, Saturday, May 12, notifying the public of the upcoming proposal. Details about a formal public comment period during the fall and ways to provide comment to the DNR on the proposal will be provided in the future.
The current regulation requires immediate release of all walleye 20 to 26 inches long with a possession limit of four fish, one of which can be longer than 26 inches. Any potential change would be effective for the 2019 fishing season, and such a change may be temporary based on future assessments of the fishery.
For more information on Leech Lake management go to mndnr.gov/leechlake/index.html.

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Northern pike zone regulations in effect for fishing opener

Anglers planning to fish for northern pike when the season opens Saturday, May 12, are reminded that new regulations for catching and keeping northern pike will be the most significant change they’ll find in the 2018 Minnesota Fishing Regulations Booklet.
“We’re gearing up for fishing opener and that’s a great time to get a refresher on Minnesota fishing regulations, especially the zone regulations for anyone who wants to catch and keep pike,” said Al Stevens, fisheries program consultant with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The pike regulations apply only to inland waters and have three distinct zones to address the different characteristics of pike populations in Minnesota.

  • North-central: Limit of 10 northern pike, but not more than two pike longer than 26 inches; all from 22 to 26 inches must be released. 
  • Northeast: Two pike; anglers must release all from 30 to 40 inches, with only one over 40 inches allowed in possession.
  • South: Two fish; minimum size 24 inches.

Throughout the state, special regulations that cover individual lakes, rivers and streams remain in effect and take precedence over the zone regulations.
For more information on the zone regulations visit mndnr.gov/pike or contact a local area fisheries office. Contact information can be found in the fishing regulations booklet, available online at mndnr.gov/regulations/fishing.

Northern pike added to state’s catch-and-release record program

Anglers who catch and release northern pike can earn state records through an expansion of a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources record fish program that previously included only lake sturgeon, muskellunge and flathead catfish in the catch-and-release category.
“These catch-and-release records have really caught on and now we’re adding northern pike into the mix,” said Mike Kurre, DNR mentoring program coordinator. “Photos of these fish have ramped up awareness of Minnesota as a go-to state for trophy fish.”
This category of the DNR’s record fish program lets anglers submit photos and documentation of potential record fish they catch and release. Anglers send one photo of the fish displayed alongside a measuring stick, ruler or tape; and one photo of the angler with the fish.
“Catch-and-release fishing remains a time-honored tradition and when anglers release these large fish they give others the chance to catch them later,” Kurre said.
Diehard anglers and DNR Fisheries staff pushed for the record category, added in 2016, to recognize people who catch trophy fish while also supporting the catch-and-release ethic already shared by many anglers. The option remains to participate in the traditional category of records based on certified weight of fish caught and kept.
To be eligible for any state record, anglers must obtain a valid license and the fish must be caught in season. Anglers may fish for a species only when a season is open, even when catch-and-release angling.
Detailed guidelines for participating in both the catch-and-release and certified weight categories can be found at mndnr.gov/recordfish. Fishing regulations and season dates can be found at mndnr.gov/fishmn.
Anglers who catch large fish also have the option of participating in the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame’s Master Angler program, which recognizes 60 fish species. Information about that program is available at fishinghalloffamemn.com/master-anglers.

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Why the zones? New regulations for keeping northern pike explained

The new northern pike fishing regulations, which were announced recently and go into effect on the May 12 fishing opener, have three distinct zones to address the different characteristics of pike populations in Minnesota, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
Each of the zones – north-central, northeast and south – provide protection for different sizes of pike, and there are reasons for those differences. 
“We’re continuing to let anglers know there are new pike regulations for those who want to keep pike on inland waters,” said Chris Kavanaugh, DNR northeast region fisheries manager. “We also want to share the thinking behind the new regulations.”

North-central zone
The north-central zone is the largest of the three zones, and here the possession limit is 10 northern pike, but only two can be longer than 26 inches; and all from 22 to 26 inches must be released.
“We’re responding to angler concerns about the over-abundance of small, or hammer-handle, pike in the north-central zone,” Kavanaugh said. 
Through anglers keeping small fish but protecting the 22 to 26 inch pike, the objective in the north-central zone is to both reduce the abundance of small pike and allow medium size pike to grow larger.
The advantages of growing larger pike are twofold. While protected these medium size pike will eat small pike, helping reduce abundance of small pike. And when they eventually grow out of the protected size range they will be a more desirable size for keeping. 

Southern zone
In the southern zone, where reproduction is limited, the regulation intends to increase pike abundance while also improving the size of fish harvested.
Anglers in the southern zone can keep two fish, but the minimum size is 24 inches.
“The management issue in the southern zone is the opposite of what’s happening in the north-central zone,” Kavanaugh said. “With low reproduction, stocking is often necessary to provide a pike fishery in the south. Here we want to protect young pike and give them a chance to grow.”
Growth rates are much faster in these southern lakes so most will reach the 24 inch keeper size in a few years.    

Northeastern zone
In the northeastern zone, pike reproduction is good but these lakes do not have the high density problems of the north-central zone since they still have a nice balance of medium to large pike. Here, it makes sense to provide protection for large pike while they still exist.
“The trophy pike of the Arrowhead Region have definitely made some great stories and photos over the decades,” Kavanaugh said. “But these fish grow slowly in the cold water and if too many anglers keep trophy pike here, they’ll be gone.” 
In the northeastern zone, anglers can keep two pike but must release all from 30 to 40 inches, with only one over 40 inches allowed in possession.

Other considerations
Anglers who want to keep pike will need to be prepared to measure them. Those planning to take advantage of the expanded bag limit on small pike should familiarize themselves with the extra cuts it takes to fillet the fish.
New pike regulations do not affect border water fishing regulations or special regulations that cover individual lakes, rivers and streams.
Darkhouse spearing regulations for pike differ slightly and those regulations are listed in the spearing section of the regulations booklet.
For more information on the new zone regulations visit mndnr.gov/pike or contact a local area fisheries office. Contact information can be found at mndnr.gov/areas/fisheries or in the printed fishing regulations booklet.

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The water’s fine – or almost melted – so let’s go fishing!

By Jeff Ledermann, angler and hunter education and skills team supervisor

So you might have heard that fishing is a big deal in Minnesota. Maybe you’ve even thought it sounds kind of fun. Then reality sets in and here comes the list of chores, hassles and other plans – all those reasons we end up watching beautiful vistas through our friends’ social media feeds instead of enjoying Minnesota’s great outdoors ourselves.
Well I’m here to tell you, you can fish and I’m here to stoke your fear of missing out. That’s right, chores and other plans will always be there. But not the fishing.
No, it’s not mandatory that you fish. Nobody is forcing you to get out and see beauty in Minnesota so striking that it takes your breath away – lakes, streams, rocks and forests that are better in person despite any after-the-fact social media filter. That loon that swims by won’t notify you when it’s going to do that again. The turtle may continue to sit on a nearby log, but then how would you know? And then there’s you – how do you know what your problems will look like with the perspective you gain in a day of relaxing on the water with some peace and quiet?
The paradox is that fishing is about more than catching fish. And for people who do catch fish, many find it’s all they think about this time of year.
Out of the 1.4 million licensed anglers in Minnesota, about half a million take part in the great annual tradition of fishing opener, this year on Saturday, May 12. Of course, “fishing opener” is a bit of a misnomer since fishing remains open all year for many species including popular and fast-biting species like bluegill or crappies.
Fishing opener marks the day fishing can begin for walleye, northern pike and trout in lakes. But it’s more than that. For many, fishing opener is a time to be with family and friends, reminiscing on old memories and making new ones. For others, fishing opener is the first chance to feel that tug on the line and the excitement and anticipation to see what is on the other end. That first fish fry is the hope for some who aim to bring home a healthy and tasty meal of fish they catch and prepare themselves.
You can even pat yourself on the back for fishing. It’s good for Minnesota. Fishing supports local businesses and rural economies. And purchasing licenses, fishing equipment and boat fuel supports conservation. That’s because license sales and federal excise taxes on fishing equipment and boat fuel fund the majority of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ basic fish management and fishing programs that help continue great fishing for future generations.
I hope you don’t miss out on great fishing during the opener or sometime this summer, and make some new memories with old and new friends. If you want to start fishing, I encourage you to ask someone who does if they’ll take you along.

You can check out mndnr.gov/fishmn for what you need to get started.

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With late ice-out, DNR crews face a challenge to get ramps and docks ready by fishing opener

The lingering cold weather is delaying ice-out on Minnesota lakes and rivers, which could make it difficult for DNR crews to have the 1,500 public water accesses it manages ready in time for the May 12 fishing opener.
“I want Minnesotans to know that we are doing everything we can to get ready for the fishing opener,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, “but mostly what we need are warmer temperatures and sunshine.”
There are approximately 3,000 public water access sites statewide, and the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division manages about half of them.
“Winter weather is always a challenge to Minnesota’s public water access sites,” said Nancy Stewart, water recreation program consultant. “Because of the late ice-out this year, DNR crews will have a shorter window than usual to get boat ramps and docks ready for the May 12 fishing opener, but we will have as many of them ready as possible.”
Every year, repairs are needed at hundreds of sites, because freezing temperatures and ice cause concrete to crack and buckle on the ramps. In some years, crews can get a head start on that work, even before ice-out, but this year the snow has prevented them from assessing damage, and the ramps can’t be re-leveled until the ground thaws.
In the meantime, crews are busy rehabbing docks by, for example, changing bumpers and wheels as needed so that they’ll be ready to pop in when the time comes.
“Even if every last dock isn’t in by the opener, there will be places to fish and boat,” said Stewart.
Helpful resources on the DNR’s Public Water Access website (www.mndnr.gov/wateraccess) include:

  • A map showing where ice-out has occurred.
  • Phone numbers for DNR Area Offices for updates.

Boaters and anglers can also get their questions answered by calling the DNR Info Center: 888-646-6367 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday).

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New estimate shows healthy Mille Lacs smallmouth bass population

Since the late 1990s, Mille Lacs Lake has become an increasingly popular destination for anglers who want to catch trophy-sized smallmouth bass. Until now, it wasn’t known how many of these fish – prized more for their fight than their fillets – called the lake home. A population estimate completed in 2018 shows there are some 67,000 smallmouth bass in the 128,000-acre lake.
“This looks like a healthy population,” said Tom Jones, regional fisheries treaty coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “This estimate roughly represents the number of adult bass in the lake. It does not include bass under 12 inches.”
The population estimate would not have been possible without the help of the Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance and Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation. The Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance kept detailed records of their catches and provided length and tag numbers from more than 2,100 smallmouth bass. Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation held several tournaments on Mille Lacs, including the statewide Tournament of Champions, and anglers provided similar data for more than 1,600 bass.
“Mille Lacs is the number one bass fishery in the United States right now, and we just want to help protect it,” said Jim DeRosa, president of the Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance. “We’re really thrilled that we could play a small part in that.”
In 2013, smallmouth bass regulations changed to allow anglers more opportunity to keep smallmouth on Mille Lacs Lake. The move was made to permit anglers to keep some fish during a time when walleye harvest has been restricted or prohibited. During the past five seasons, smallmouth bass regulations have varied, but they generally have allowed harvest of bass under 17 inches. A 20-inch smallmouth bass is generally regarded as a trophy fish.
“One thing smallmouth anglers were concerned about was that allowing harvest would mean fewer big bass,” Jones said. “That’s not what we’ve seen with the most current assessment. About half of the smallmouth are over 17 inches, and that is consistent with what we’ve seen in past assessments of Mille Lacs smallmouth.” 
In 2016 and 2017, Mille Lacs Lake hosted the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, and in 2017 Bassmaster Magazine named Mille Lacs Lake the best bass fishery in the nation.
“We recognize Mille Lacs is a world-class bass fishery, and we’re committed to protecting it,” said Jones. “Now that we have a good estimate of the abundance of smallmouth bass, we look forward to working with Minnesota bass groups and the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee this summer to discuss potential long-term regulations.”   
While Mille Lacs has long been known for walleye, the growth of the lake’s smallmouth bass population is a fairly recent phenomenon. During the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, smallmouth started showing up in DNR assessments more frequently. And anglers were hooking more of them.
“When fishing pressure increased in the late 1990s, that’s when we decided to protect smallmouth bass,” Jones said. “We thought the population was fragile at the time.”
From 2000 to 2012, anglers on Mille Lacs were limited to one bass over 21 inches, and a very small number of fish were harvested each year. The DNR’s first assessment of Mille Lacs smallmouth bass in 1999 supported the decision to restrict harvest of smallmouth bass, but a 2009 assessment found smallmouth bass in much higher numbers and in a much wider portion of the lake.
Though anglers have been allowed to keep more bass since 2013, creel surveys indicate that interest in keeping bass is low. The average number of bass kept each year is about 2,800. In recent years, anglers have caught and released more than 125,000 bass.
“Based on the estimated number of smallmouth bass in the lake and the number that anglers catch each year, it’s clear that these fish are being caught more than once,” said Tom Heinrich, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Garrison. “The anglers who are releasing those bass are helping maintain the lake’s incredible bass fishery.”   
Bass season on Mille Lacs opens Saturday, May 12. Prior to Saturday, May 26, all largemouth and smallmouth bass must be immediately released. Beginning May 26, the combined bass possession limit is three, with only one bass over 21 inches. All bass 17 to 21 inches must be immediately released.
More information about Mille Lacs Lake can be found at mndnr.gov/millelacslake.

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Spring turkey season begins

Licenses are available for seasons that run from May 2 to May 31

turkey photo

In 1978, Minnesota held its first turkey hunt in modern history. During that season, a lucky 420 hunters drew permits. Since then, interest in pursuing these big game birds has expanded along with their population and range. Last spring some 50,000 turkey permits were issued, and hunters registered nearly 12,000 birds.
“Wild turkeys are now found almost everywhere in Minnesota,” said James Burnham, DNR hunter recruitment, retention and reactivation coordinator. “It’s true that wild turkeys can be a challenging species to hunt, but getting started as a turkey hunter isn’t difficult. Camouflage, a shotgun, an inexpensive call, and a license are all you really need.”
Minnesota’s excellent turkey hunting is a management success story. Due to habitat loss and unregulated hunting, the state’s last native turkey was spotted in 1880. After several re-introduction attempts dating back to the 1920s, successful trap and transplant efforts began in 1971. Historically, wild turkeys were found primarily in the forested river valleys of southeastern Minnesota, but favorable habitat has allowed for the expansion of the wild turkey’s range to include most of the state.
“Recent changes have made it easier for more people to get started turkey hunting,” Burnham said. “Archery hunters and youth hunters are exempt from the lottery, and licenses for a large portion of the season can be purchased by anyone.”
The season runs from April 18 to May 31 and is divided into six hunt periods, A through F (see table below). Hunt A and B licenses for firearms hunters age 18 and older are limited in availability and assigned via lottery drawing. Archery and youth hunters (under 18) are exempt from the lottery and may purchase a spring turkey license valid during all hunt periods, including hunts A and B. All licensed turkey hunters can participate in Hunt F if they have an unused tag from one of the earlier hunt periods.
Visit mndnr.gov/hunting/turkey for more information about turkey hunting in Minnesota.
2018 Spring Turkey Hunt Periods
Hunt A:                 April 18 – 24
Hunt B:                 April 25 - May 1
Hunt C:                 May 2 – 8
Hunt D:                 May 9 – 15
Hunt E:                 May 16-22

Hunt F:                 May 23-31

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