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OutdoorsWeekly.com Minnesota Archived News
Minnesota News

Last updated: Aug 2015

 

 

Last day to fish for walleye on Mille Lacs Lake is Monday, Aug. 3
Mille Lacs is one of the nation’s top destinations for smallmouth bass fishing, ranked 10th nationally

Walleye fishing on Mille Lacs Lake will close at 10 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 3. A recent angler survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources found the walleye harvest by anglers has exceeded the state’s allotment for 2015 by more than 2,000 pounds. Other fish species including smallmouth bass, northern pike and muskellunge remain abundant in the lake. Fishing for these species will remain open with loosened regulations that allow anglers to keep more of what they catch.
“This action is necessary to conserve walleye populations in Mille Lacs Lake for the long term. Despite the walleye closure, Mille Lacs remains a world class fishing destination with some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the country,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. "Working together – tribes, local businesses, local government and the state – we will get through this difficult period.”
To help alleviate the economic challenges facing local businesses, Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders will meet to discuss emergency relief legislation and a special session to pass it. The governor supports a financial aid package consisting of no-interest loans, property tax abatements, and additional funding for tourism advertising. The governor also has directed the DNR to aggressively address the issues related to the decline of the lake’s walleye population.
Mille Lacs Lakes remains one of America’s premiere fishing destinations. Special regulations allowing anglers to catch and keep more and larger northern pike and smallmouth bass have been implemented to attract more anglers to the lake. DNR tagging studies also indicate that muskies larger than 50 inches have never been more abundant.
The Mille Lacs Lake walleye population is already poised for a comeback. DNR fishery surveys indicate Mille Lacs contains a large population of walleye hatched in 2013 that now are 10-13 inches long. The survival of these fish suggests that the population will improve if more of these walleye and walleye hatched in later years survive their first year and beyond so they eventually can spawn. Population assessments this fall will provide additional information about the walleye population in the lake.
The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s traditional leaders decided Friday that the Band will temporarily suspend nettingthrough the end of spring 2016.

More on the Aug. 3 walleye closure
The decision means Monday, Aug. 3, is the last day anglers can fish for walleye on Mille Lacs Lake. The closure will remain in effect through Monday, Nov. 30. Fishing for other species remains open. Commissioner Landwehr stressed that Mille Lacs remains one of the premier fishing destinations in the country for other species such as smallmouth bass, northern pike and muskellunge.
Despite restrictive regulations implemented earlier this year, unexpected increases in fishing pressure, catch rates, and hooking mortality in July pushed the harvest by state-licensed anglers to more than 30,700 pounds. The state’s allocation was 28,600 pounds of the 2015 total safe harvest of 40,000 pounds. Tribal harvest was approximately 1,200 pounds below the tribes’ 11,400-pound walleye limit.
Warm water greatly increases walleye mortality on fish that must be released because they did not fall within the harvest slot. This “hooking mortality” of walleyes that die after being released counts toward the state’s limit.

Mille Lacs Lake management
DNR and eight Chippewa bands in Minnesota and Wisconsin work cooperatively to set safe walleye harvest levels on Mille Lacs. Each year limits are set that determine how many pounds of fish state anglers and the tribes can harvest. This year’s limit for walleye was deliberately reduced to 40,000 pounds to protect the existing spawning stock while providing more time for the abundant young fish in the lake to potentially survive to spawning age to rebuild the lake’s walleye population.
Since 2008, not enough young walleye are surviving to maturity and replenishing the Mille Lacs Lake population. As a result, Mille Lacs walleye numbers are currently at a 30-year low. In response, the state has instituted more restrictive walleye regulations to protect the spawning stock and allow young walleye better odds of surviving to maturity.
Additional information about Mille Lacs Lake, the season closure and what DNR is doing to rebuild the walleye population is available on DNR’s website at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake.

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Another conservative deer season set to rebuild population
Licenses on sale Aug. 1
Hunters can expect another conservative deer season in 2015 as management continues to rebuild deer numbers across much of the state, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.
“The 2015 deer hunting regulations will be quite similar to last year, with one-deer limits in most of the state,” said Leslie McInenly, big game program leader for the DNR. “Hunters should check the 2015 regulations early, because in the majority of areas, hunters will need to apply for a permit to shoot an antlerless deer.”
In 70 of Minnesota’s 128 deer permit areas, hunters must be chosen in a lottery to shoot an antlerless deer. Only bucks can be hunted in 14 areas. In 29 areas, hunters have the choice of shooting a doe or a buck. Bonus permits allowing hunters to shoot more than one deer may only be used in 11 permit areas and for some special hunts. In three southwestern areas, the DNR is restricting antlerless harvest to youth hunters only.
Hunters can buy deer licenses and apply to the lottery for antlerless deer permits starting Saturday, Aug. 1. The deadline to apply for the lottery is Thursday, Sept. 10.
“Given the mild winter for most of the state and reduced harvest last year, we anticipate that hunters will be seeing more deer when afield, and we are already hearing from people that they are seeing more deer this summer,” McInenly said. “We are continuing a conservative harvest approach in order to raise deer numbers consistent with our recent goal-setting process.”
The 2015 season marks the second year of a management approach to rebuild deer populations based on goal setting and listening sessions that indicated a desire for more deer in many areas.
Northern Minnesota hunters will again feel the impact of a bucks-only season. In bucks-only areas, no antlerless deer may be harvested by any hunter, including those with archery or youth licenses. Similarly, no antlerless deer may be harvested by any adult hunters in youth-only antlerless areas. However, as a result of 2015 legislation, new this year is an exception allowing either-sex harvest by any hunter age 84 and up or by hunters who are residents of veterans’ homes.
Another change this year is the return of youth-only antlerless harvest for a few areas in southwestern Minnesota. The measure is designed to increase populations into goal range in areas where antlerless harvest under the lottery system hasn’t been restrictive enough to increase deer numbers.
Details on buying a license
All hunters who purchase licenses by Sept. 10 are automatically entered into the lottery if they declare a lottery deer permit area. Those who do not wish to harvest an antlerless deer are encouraged to purchase their license after the lottery deadline. Hunters may apply using both their firearm and muzzleloader licenses. If hunters are selected for both licenses, they must select the one season in which they want to shoot an antlerless deer. 
Deer hunting licenses, lottery applications and special hunt applications are available at any DNR license agent, by telephone at 888-665-4236 or online at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense. Lottery winners will be notified in October.
Permit area breakdown
Bucks-only deer areas in 2015 are permit areas 103, 108, 111, 118, 119, 152, 169, 176, 177, 178, 181, 183, 199 and 203.
Youth-only antlerless deer areas in 2015 are permit areas 234, 237 and 286.
Lottery deer areas in 2015 are permit areas 101, 105, 110, 117, 122, 126, 127, 155, 156, 157, 159, 171, 172, 173, 179, 180, 184, 197, 208, 210, 221, 222, 224, 229, 232, 235, 238, 242, 246, 247, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 258, 259, 260, 261, 262, 263, 266, 267, 268, 269, 270, 271, 272, 273, 274, 275, 276, 278, 279, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 288, 289, 290, 291, 294, 295, 296, 297, 298 and 299.
Hunter choice deer areas in 2015 are permit areas 201, 209, 213, 218, 219, 223, 225, 230, 233, 239, 240, 248, 254, 255, 256, 257, 264, 265, 277, 292, 293, 338, 339, 341, 342, 344, 345, 347 and 348.
Managed deer areas in 2015 are permit areas 114, 214, 215, 227, 236, 241, 287 and 343.
Intensive deer areas in 2015 are permit areas 182, 346 and 349.
The DNR strongly advises hunters to review new deer hunting regulations, permit area designations and boundary changes before applying. Current and up-to-date information is available online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/deer. Information about deer management and upcoming deer population goal setting during the next two years is available at www.mndnr.gov/deer.

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DNR mid-summer report: More deer seen after milder winter
doe with fawn

Reports of good white-tailed fawn numbers are coming in from around Minnesota as a milder winter and a conservative approach to the 2014 hunting season are already starting to show results.
Mid-summer reports from wildlife managers around the state place the overall deer population recovery on solid footing. However, during the 2015 season, conservative population management will allow deer numbers to rebuild across much of the state. One-deer limits will apply for most hunters during this rebuilding year.
For more information about the 2015 deer season, permit area maps and links to the 2015 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook, see www.mndnr.gov/hunting/deer


Northwestern Minnesota
Deer numbers in the northwest region appear to be up from last year. Last winter brought mild temperatures and little snow. A conservative 2014 deer season with a low number of antlerless permits issued has resulted in more does and fawns on the landscape.
Abundant spring and early summer rainfall has provided excellent summer deer forage. Deer are feeding in the afternoon and evening in the open, grassy areas and along forest roads, escaping the flies and other insects in the wooded areas.
Doe and buck numbers seem to be moderately increasing in the Roseau, Baudette and Beltrami Island state forest areas. Fawn observations are difficult as they are just now getting big enough to be seen with does in the tall vegetation. Overall, buck observations are the same as last year or lower, with mostly younger bucks being observed.
Wildlife managers in the Thief River Falls, Thief Lake and Karlstad wildlife management areas are seeing more deer than in recent years, including a good mix of bucks, does and fawns. Fawns are still spotted, and there seem to be more twins and even triplets.
Deer numbers remain reduced but are recovering in the Skime area west of Thief Lake, where the DNR took aggressive action to eradicate bovine tuberculosis (TB) from the state’s livestock and wildlife herds (now considered to be TB free).
In the Bemidji and Park Rapids areas, deer numbers are increasing. There seems to be excellent reproduction and many large fawns have been observed. Buck numbers appear up from last year and some nice bucks have been seen.
In the Fergus Falls and Glenwood areas, deer population numbers remain about the same as last year, both in terms of fawns and adults. The few bucks observed have nice antler growth.
The Detroit Lakes area deer population appears to be up from last year. Many does, plenty of twin fawns and yearlings have been sighted. Only small bucks have been observed.
The northwest region offers a variety of youth and adult deer hunting opportunities at most of the region’s state parks and at Rydell National Wildlife Refuge. The cities of Bemidji and Fergus Falls manage archery hunts, Red Lake Falls offers a deer hunt, several of the scientific and natural areas offer a variety of deer hunting opportunities, and there is a deer hunt for people with disabilities in Orwell Wildlife Sanctuary.


Northeastern Minnesota
An increase in deer numbers appears to be off to a solid start in northeastern Minnesota.
Winter in the northeast wasn’t mild, but it was milder than average. However, compared to some other areas of the state, a deer population recovery in the region can be slower because of factors including a shorter growing season, fewer fawns per doe on average, fewer deer per square mile, winter severity and predation.
With that in mind, wildlife managers are reporting good fawn production overall with single and twin fawns widely reported. Every now and then, triplets are seen. Does appear to have come through the winter healthy enough to support the physical demands of nursing. Fawns are traveling with their mothers at times, are including more vegetation in their diets and appear to have healthy weights for this time of year. Bucks are sporting velvet-covered antlers right now and antler growth is good.
Good fawn production this spring has been a welcomed site in areas where winter severity was extreme in the far northern reaches of the state for three of the last four winters, and where deer populations had declined the most statewide.
In the more southern portions of the northeast region, winter severity was not as extreme, but population numbers are still below target and are being managed for increases.
Along the North Shore and throughout much of the region, last year’s fawns survived the recent milder-than-average winter, and there should be good numbers of yearlings entering the breeding population this fall. Permit areas in the moose range are designated lottery to maintain lower deer populations.
Duluth and some Iron Range communities will hold special in-town hunts to reduce the number of city deer. Permit areas around the Aitkin and Brainerd areas will generally be designated as lottery with a limited number of antlerless tags issued, and more permit areas will be restricted to bucks-only the farther one travels north.


Central Minnesota
Deer numbers are up in central Minnesota due to conservative harvest in 2014, coupled with one of the mildest winters in recent memory. Reproduction has been strong, with fawns being born in late May and early June. The lush vegetation may be making it hard to see deer this summer, but does that are observed in the fields are often accompanied by one or two fawns. Bucks’ antlers are noticeable and developing fast.
 
Deer are taking any succulent vegetation this time of year, and the browse activity on shrubs and tree saplings is obvious throughout the central region. Landowners who hunt deer and maintain wildlife food plots are saying the deer are numerous and browsing down the food plots as they grow. Many of the central Minnesota permit areas will maintain conservative harvest strategies in 2015. The Metro Deer Management Area (601) will continue to allow for unlimited antlerless harvest. A variety of special hunts, both archery and firearms, have been identified region-wide for 2015.


Southeastern Minnesota
Hunters heading afield in southeastern Minnesota this fall should find plenty of deer. A mild winter and early spring have contributed to strong deer populations there.
Fawns were commonly seen in mid-May, well ahead of the usual June 1 peak fawning period. Most does seem to have twins with them this year, with some reports of triplets. Bucks that have been observed are displaying normal antler development with velvet racks of decent size on mature animals.
Opportunities abound for deer hunting in the southeast during the regular archery, two firearms and muzzleloader seasons. Once again, 300-series permit areas will be open to a special youth season over the weekend of the annual Education Minnesota conference when many students do not have school from Thursday, Oct. 15, to Sunday, Oct. 18.
Special firearms hunts will be offered at a handful of state parks and at Zumbro Falls Woods Scientific and Natural Area. A special archery hunt will be managed within the city of Red Wing.
Each of these hunts has special regulations and deadlines for application, as spelled out in the 2015 Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook.
Permit areas 346 and 349 in the extreme southeastern corner of the state will again be managed for intensive harvest, as deer populations there are above goal. Crop damage complaints in these areas have been steady this summer as deer congregate to feed on soybeans and corn stalks. An area-wide early antlerless hunt will also be offered in October.


Southwestern Minnesota
The southwest region is seeing encouraging signs this year, as DNR staff continue to report sets of twins and some triplet fawns – and even two sets of quadruplets. These multiple fawns are a sign of a healthy herd, and back-to-back mild winters have no doubt helped.
 
This is a great time of year for families to view deer in southwestern Minnesota, especially does and fawns. Fawns still have spots but are active and growing. Buck deer have velvet antlers several inches long. An early morning or pre-sunset drive along a rural gravel road will increase the chance of spotting whitetails.
In spite of the good reports, three permit areas have continued to stay below deer population goal levels. As a result, areas 234, 237 and 286 will have a youth-only antlerless season in 2015. With the exception of youth, veterans’ home residents and hunters 84 years or older, all other hunters are restricted to harvest legal bucks only in these areas. The DNR took this step to bring up deer numbers in these areas because even conservative antlerless quotas the past several years have resulted in antlerless harvests too high for herd growth.

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Strong catch, warm weather push Mille Lacs walleye fishery toward state quota
Other fishing on Mille Lacs unaffected, remains strong and near record highs

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced last week’s creel survey on estimated walleye harvests, releases, and kill on Mille Lacs Lake during the first two weeks of July showed drastic increases that could result in the state reaching its limit by July 29.
Despite the ongoing challenges with the walleye population, other fishing on the lake remains strong and near record highs. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr stressed that anglers should take advantage of the continuation of liberal northern pike and smallmouth bass regulations on the lake.
“Mille Lacs Lake remains one of the premiere fishing destinations in the state,” Landwehr said. “Northern pike and smallmouth bass are at or near record highs. Anglers should take advantage of the liberal regulations for these species. DNR tagging studies also indicate that muskies larger than 50 inches have never been more abundant.”
During the first seven months of the monitoring period (December 2014 – June 2015) walleye harvest rates were at or below predicted levels, based on tight regulations adopted for the open-water season. Based upon those results, total harvest was expected to be below the State’s 28,600-pound limit for this twelve-month period and the DNR’s June 30 creel study showed the state was within 15,300 pounds of reaching the annual quota.
However, as of July 15, when the last angler survey was conducted, the state was within just 3,000 pounds of reaching the annual quota. Records also show it was only the second time in 30 years that Mille Lacs walleye catch rates in July were higher than the second half of June. This dramatic spike is believed to be due to unusual circumstances – including the high catch rates over the 4th of July and warm water temperatures (the third highest on record). Warm water greatly increases walleye mortality on fish that had to be released because they did not fall within the harvest slot. The so-called “hooking mortality” of walleyes that die after being released counts toward the state quota.
Gov. Mark Dayton has directed the DNR to wait until after the next creel survey which will cover the period from July 16 to July 31, to see if the most recent numbers are an aberration. During that time, officials at the DNR, the Office of Tourism, and Department of Employment and Economic Development will meet with resort owners and other affected stakeholders on Mille Lacs to discuss the situation and seek recommendations.
A federal court decision legally requires state officials to abide by the limit agreed upon with the eight Chippewa bands for each year. After the next creel report is received, the commissioner will take the necessary actions. It should be emphasized, however, that if the state determines it has exceeded its harvest allotment, the commissioner will be legally required to suspend fishing for walleye on the lake. 
 
The DNR has met with the Minnesota tribes who harvest on Mille Lacs, as well as the executive administrator of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission on the situation and shared fisheries data with them. There is mutual concern to respond to the increased harvest and take steps necessary to protect the walleye population.
Earlier this year, the DNR also met with Mille Lacs Lake business owners and anglers to discuss the struggling walleye population and the risks of going over the lower quota. The DNR, Department of Employment and Economic Development, and Explore Minnesota Tourism will continue working with area resorts and businesses to gather their input, assess the impact of fishing conditions on area businesses, and work with the community as a decision is made on the continuation of the fishing season.

Additional Background on the Mille Lacs Lake Walleye Quota
Since 2008, not enough young walleye are surviving to maturity and replenishing the Mille Lacs Lake population. As a result, Mille Lacs walleye numbers are currently at a 30-year low. In response, the state instituted more restrictive walleye regulations this year in order to protect young walleyes so they could grow older.
In fact, this year Mille Lacs’ 2015 walleye safe harvest level was deliberately reduced from 60,000 to 40,000 pounds so that more fish could potentially survive and spawn to improve the walleye population. Under this year’s quota, state anglers can harvest up to 28,600 pounds of walleye, and the eight Chippewa bands with 1837 Treaty harvest rights can harvest up to 11,400 pounds of walleye. Anglers are able to keep one walleye that is 19- to 21-inches long, or longer than 28 inches.
Despite this year’s low walleye population, DNR fishery surveys have shown this year that there may be good news on the horizon. Biologists are seeing a large population of young walleyes hatched in 2013. Walleyes in that group are currently 10-to 13-inches long. It is important to protect those fish so they can contribute to future angling success and walleye production.
Information on Mille Lacs management can be found at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake. This year’s fishing regulations are on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/fishmn.

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Breeding mallard numbers down, other species up from last year

Minnesota’s breeding mallard population counts are down from last year while other species saw increases, according to the results of the annual Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spring waterfowl surveys.
This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 206,000, which is 20 percent below last year’s estimate of 257,000 breeding mallards, 17 percent below the recent 10-year average and 10 percent above the long-term average measured since 1968.
The blue-winged teal population is 169,000 this year, 66 percent above the 2014 estimate of 102,000, but the population remains 21 percent below the long-term average of 212,000 blue-winged teal. 
The combined populations of other ducks, such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads was 149,000, which is 29 percent higher than last year and 16 percent below the long-term average.
The estimate of total duck abundance (excluding scaup) was 524,000, similar to last year’s estimate of 474,000 ducks.
The estimated number of wetlands was 220,000, down 36 percent from last year, and 13 percent below the long-term average. Wetland numbers can vary greatly based on annual precipitation.
“We generally expect to see lower duck numbers during dry years. We did see lower mallard numbers this year, but blue-winged teal and other duck numbers were improved from last year,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “In addition to our counts, the continental waterfowl population estimates will be released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this summer and they provide an indicator of what hunters can expect this fall.”
The same waterfowl survey has been conducted each year since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 40 percent of the state that includes much of the best remaining duck breeding habitat in Minnesota.
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 250,000 geese, which was similar to last year’s estimate of 244,000 geese. This doesn’t include an additional estimated 17,500 breeding Canada geese in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
“The number of Canada geese in Minnesota remains high but the population has been very stable for many years. With the early spring this year, we should see a good hatch of goslings as well,” 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, which includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities metropolitan area, counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots located in prairie, transition and forested areas.

The DNR will announce this fall’s waterfowl hunting regulations later this summer. The Minnesota waterfowl report is at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.

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DNR approves new deer population goals

New deer population goals have been approved by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for large portions of northeastern, north-central and east-central Minnesota, covering 40 of 128 deer permit areas in the state.
“These new goals will result in management to increase deer numbers in relation to last year’s levels in most of the 40 permit areas,” said Steve Merchant, wildlife populations manager. “The new goals largely reflect the desires shared by stakeholders who participated in the deer goal setting process and generally reflect the public feedback we’ve heard during the past few years.”
As a result of this process, 85 percent of the 40 areas will be managed for populations higher than those experienced in 2014; the remaining will see no change.
Comparison to former goals
Of the 40 deer permit areas with new goals, 26 will be managed for deer densities higher than those established by the previous goals; eight will be managed at similar densities to former goals; and six will be managed for densities below former goals. More information about the goals for each deer permit area can be found at www.mndnr.gov/deer.
With respect to the four advisory team recommendations not accepted by the DNR, the agency chose more moderate population increases to better reflect the preferences suggested by hunter and landowner survey data and public input; allow more deer to be harvested; and minimize anticipated deer damage to agricultural lands and forest habitat.
Goals are intended to be in place for three to five years. The DNR shortened the goal timeframe to allow more frequent opportunities to revisit and adjust goals with input from stakeholders.
Goal-setting process
This is the third year the DNR has worked with citizens and stakeholders to re-assess and re-establish deer population goals in portions of the state. Goals for southwestern and portions of northern Minnesota were set in 2012. Goals for southeastern Minnesota were set last year.
DNR will postpone goal setting in the remaining 54 deer permit areas scheduled for consideration in 2016 until the current legislative audit of Minnesota’s deer population management program is complete.
More information about deer goal setting can be found at www.mndnr.gov/deer.

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DNR studies muskie to improve fishing for anglers

Researchers carefully hoist a huge muskellunge onto a boat. They record its measurements, identify the sex of the fish, scan an electronic tag implanted in the muskie and return it to the lake where, one day, it could take an angler’s lure and provide a long-remembered thrill.

Collecting information and studying muskie populations allows the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to make well-informed decisions about how to stock muskie and manage harvest.

“As anglers head into the muskie season that began June 6, they are enjoying opportunities that came about largely due to research-based management,” said Don Pereira, fisheries section chief. “Better information can lead to better fishing in a state that’s already a renowned muskie fishing destination.”

The DNR studies muskie in a variety of ways, including looking into everything from muskie ancestry using DNA analysis to how well muskie grow and survive once they’re stocked in certain southern Minnesota lakes. The research builds on past work that identified how to best capture and rear a large-growing native strain of muskie, stock this strain into appropriate waters, and manage the harvest.

“This large-growing strain is one reason muskie anglers are able to catch fish in the 50-plus inch trophy range,” Pereira said. “There are enough of these fish in the population that many anglers asked for the change to a 54-inch minimum length on muskie in most waters of the state, which is in effect this year.”

Along with a growing interest in muskie fishing, research taking place around the state aims to fine-tune muskie management.

Walker area fisheries: Using DNA to study muskie ancestry

With the help of DNA analysis, researchers can trace the ancestry of individual fish, including muskie. The work has real-world management implications.

“It’s a pretty cool concept. We’re starting to do more of it now on special projects around the state,” said Doug Schultz, Walker area fisheries supervisor.

For one study, Walker area fisheries teamed up with Loren Miller, a fisheries research geneticist, as well as anglers who were shown how to collect muskie scale samples for DNA analysis.

The study’s central question: In Baby and Man lakes in the Walker area, stocking of the less desirable Shoepack Lake strain of muskie ended in the 1970s. Now, what is the residual effect of Shoepack strain muskie on the current muskie population in these two lakes?

“Strain” in fish is similar to heritage in humans: Fish from a geographic location of origin tend to have similar physical characteristics that may differ from those of other locations. From the 1950s to the early 1980s, muskie from Shoepack Lake were reared and stocked in several Minnesota lakes, even in lakes where a native muskie population already existed.

It was later seen that the Shoepack strain grew slower and reached smaller maximum sizes than the Mississippi strain, which are native populations connected to the upper Mississippi River drainage system, including Leech Lake. The use of the Shoepack strain ended in favor of the faster growing and larger Leech Lake-Mississippi strain.

On Baby and Man lakes, the study found that Shoepack ancestry declined to only nine percent, down from 13 percent in 1995. Yet, historical Shoepack strain stockings are still having an impact on size potential of some fish in today’s muskie populations.

“This study could set the stage for future muskie management decisions on lakes with residual Shoepack ancestry,” Schultz said. “A study using DNA adds a new level of certainty about the effects of past stocking. That helps as we take multiple factors into account when making management decisions aimed at improving opportunities for anglers.”

Montrose area fisheries: Tagging and recapturing muskie after new stocking

Muskies were first stocked in 2011 in the Sauk River Chain of Lakes, giving anglers in the St. Cloud area a chance to fish for muskies close to home.

For Montrose area fisheries staff, the stocking offers a rare chance to track the growth of a new fish population using electronic tags.

“It’s a new fish to the system. We don’t really know what the growth potential is out there. It will be neat to find out,” said Joe Stewig, Montrose area fisheries supervisor. “Some of these fish will be marked, and we will then be able to track their growth throughout their lives.”

Beginning in 2013, Montrose area staff started implanting electronic tags into muskies, work paid for through hunting and fishing license dollars and with financial help from the Hugh C. Becker Foundation through the St. Cloud chapter of Muskies Inc. After fish are tagged, the goal is to recapture some of these fish during fall electrofishing, when crews look specifically for these stocked muskies.

“With continued funding, we’ll be able to use these tags to monitor the growth of this newly established muskie population,” Stewig said. “Using this method goes above and beyond the standard lake survey.”

West metro fisheries: Tagging muskie to evaluate stocking efforts

To study the effectiveness of muskie stocking in three Twin Cities metro area lakes, the DNR’s west metro fisheries staff is working on a muskie tagging project in partnership with the Muskies, Inc. Twin Cities Chapter and Hugh C. Becker Foundation.

The study taking place on Lake Minnetonka, Bald Eagle Lake and White Bear Lake measures the survival numbers of year-old muskie, called yearlings, and smaller muskie less than a year old, called fingerlings.

“All three lakes have high northern pike populations. So we normally don’t stock muskie in the face of that kind of competition,” said Daryl Ellison, west metro area fisheries manager. “But there’s an interest in it because they’re metro lakes.”
The study results will help evaluate the DNR’s standard stocking ratio of one yearling per three fingerlings – important knowledge because yearlings cost more to stock than fingerlings.

“Initial results seem to support the 3:1 ratio, but more study is needed,” Ellison said. “The study was showing some positive results for fingerlings in Lake Minnetonka.”

Windom area fisheries: Studying Fox Lake muskellunge

Fox Lake is Minnesota’s southernmost muskie lake, and was first stocked with muskie in 1999. Years later, electronic tags began informing an ongoing study on muskie in that lake.

Each spring from 2011 to 2013, Windom fisheries staff counted, measured and weighed muskie captured with nets. They also implanted muskie with electronic tags, and recorded information about the growth of individual fish already implanted with a tag from a previous spring.

Starting in 2012, muskie fingerlings have received electronic tags before they are stocked into the lake. To date, more than 1,200 muskellunge of varying sizes have been tagged in Fox Lake.

“Through this study on Fox Lake, we’ll gain pertinent information on population abundance, growth and longevity of muskie,” said Nate Hodgins, Windom area fisheries assistant supervisor. “It will give us a good picture of muskie populations in similar size and type lakes.”

Windom fisheries plans to use the data to help evaluate how Fox and perhaps other lakes are stocked in smaller, southern Minnesota lakes in the future. They will be netting muskie and updating Fox Lake population numbers every two years starting in 2015.

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