Fishing opener is on; planning and caution urged
Ice or no ice, Minnesota’s walleye and northern pike fishing opener is Saturday, May 11.
Anglers who have traditionally headed north for the first weekend of the season should check ice conditions and the availability of public water accesses and roads leading to them. Good sources of information are bait shops, resorts and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) area offices at www.mndnr.gov/contact/locator.html.
Even if the ice is out, some waters traditionally open may be closed to fishing to protect fish spawning areas. Information on seasonal closures is available by following the seasonal closures link at www.mndnr.gov/fishing or www.mndnr.gov/regulations/fishing.
Water temperatures will be colder than normal even if ice is out. Frigid water can affect more than the bite; it can have dangerous and potentially fatal impacts. Anglers should exercise extra caution and wear life vests. Hypothermia occurs quickly in cold water and the shock of falling into icy water also can cause cardiac arrest, even for people in good health.
For information about this year’s walleye and northern pike opener, visit www.mndnr.gov/opener/fishing.
Most boat launches ready, statewide conditions vary due to late ice-out
Due to the late ice-out, repair crews may not able to get to all Department of Natural Resources (DNR) boat launches in time for the May 11 fishing opener, particularly in northern Minnesota where many of the large lakes still have ice.
Each spring, Parks and Trails Division crews inspect and repair launch ramps and install docks.
“This work cannot be done until the ice is off the lake, and it can take a couple of weeks to get to every site in each work area,” said Nancy Stewart, public water access program coordinator. “It may be wise for boaters to call ahead for the latest report on the water body and access they plan to use.”
Meanwhile, most public water accesses at lakes in the metro area and south will be ready for boaters.
Stewart offers these suggestions for the opener:
- Be patient at the boat ramp and use extra care while launching and loading boats.
- Have hip boots or waders and a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket available to wear when entering the water to help guide boat and trailer, especially where docks are not yet available.
- If a person’s traditional fishing opener lake is not ready, they should have a back-up plan.
- Operate boats carefully, because there could be free-floating ice sheets and debris on some lakes, creating unsafe boating conditions.
- Do not go on top of ice.
Visit the DNR website for ice-out status information (www.mndnr.gov/ice_out
) and public water access maps (www.mndnr.gov/water_access
). To report problems or to get ice-out updates or request maps by phone, call the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or toll-free
888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday or use the online office locator www.dnr.state.mn.us/contact/locator.html
to find contact information for the nearest DNR office.
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New fishing license options cater to angler interests
Minnesota anglers who fish a lot or a little can hook newly created licenses tailored to their desires.
The new license options include a 72-hour fishing license, a three-year license and a reduced price annual license for youth ages 16 and 17, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“Based on feedback from our customers we created new options that reflect their interests,”
said Jenifer Wical, customer enhancement manager for the DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division. “Customers now have more choices for convenience and value.”
Wical said the new $12, 72-hour license is likely to be popular among once-a-year weekend anglers, including those who have never fished and those who have lapsed. It does not require a trout stamp or spearing validation. The $63 three-year fishing license provides a $3 price break and is valid until 2016, a convenience. The $5 license for youth ages 16 and 17 is roughly a quarter of the cost of an annual resident fishing license, which is $22. Until this year youth ages 16 and 17 paid full price for a fishing license.
“If you love fishing, then share the passion with friends and family,” Wical said. “The new license options make it easier to recruit those who haven’t fished, retain those who do and reactivate those who have dropped out.”
She said license revenue is used to manage 5,400 fishing lakes and support 150-plus field conservation officers. Moreover, the license itself is a ticket to some of the best fishing in America. “Minnesota ranks third in the nation as an inland fishing destination,” Wical said. “Wherever you are in this state, you’re close to great fishing.”
Also new are individual and combination (married couple) super sports licenses that combine a variety of hunting and fishing opportunities into one license. The DNR is working with the Legislature to readjust the cost of this license as its current price exceeds that sum of its individual components.
Licenses can be purchased and printed online anytime at www.mndnr.gov/BuyALicense and details of new license types can be found at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/heritage/index.html
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DNR tagging walleyes at Mille Lacs; return tag and get a lure
Anglers who catch a Mille Lacs Lake walleye with an orange tag on its body can receive a free fishing lure if they return that tag to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The offer is part of a broad effort to better understand the lake’s walleye population. DNR fisheries biologists are in the process of tagging and releasing 20,000 walleye. A new walleye population estimate will be based on the number of tagged fish captured in survey nets after spawning is completed. A selectivity estimate – an estimate of the sex and sizes of walleye anglers are most likely to catch - will be based on tag returns from anglers.
“To maximize tag returns and thereby the accuracy of our estimates, we are offering an incentive for the actual return of orange tags,” said Tom Jones, DNR regional treaty fisheries coordinator. “We are taking this additional step because we want the best data possible for future management decisions on Mille Lacs.”
Jones said the orange tags are labeled “REWARD.” Anglers that catch a fish with such a tag should remove it from the fish, even if the fish is released. Tags should be returned to DNR Fisheries, 1200 Minnesota Ave. S., Aitkin, MN 56431. A fishing lure will be mailed in return.
Tag return boxes will also be available at several businesses around the lake, or anglers can simply mail them to the address on “REWARD” signs posted at the boat accesses.
Incentives will not be rewarded for older yellow tags, but anglers are encouraged to return information on fish with these tags. Anglers are encouraged to leave yellow tags in the fish if they are released. These related projects will enable biologists to determine what proportion of the lake’s walleye are harvested, and will help refine population models.
“The anglers who drop their tags in the mail are doing all Mille Lacs anglers a favor,” Jones said. “The higher the tag returns the higher the data reliability . . . and that’s what you want when managing an asset as valuable as Mille Lacs.”
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Fisheries habitat plan aims at ensuring great fishing for the long term
Dirk Peterson won’t tell anglers where to catch a big fish, but he can tell them what’s needed to make sure there are big fish to catch when they get there. More and more these days, he’s boiling it down to three words: good fish habitat.
Peterson is in charge of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) fisheries section, which has just launched a new fisheries habitat plan. It outlines a strategic road map for making sure the state’s 10,000 lakes and hundreds of rivers and streams continue to provide the healthy aquatic habitat underpinning great fishing.
Pete Jacobson, a DNR fisheries research supervisor and one of the plan’s authors, makes it sound pretty simple. “The reason we have good fishing in Minnesota is because we have many lakes and streams with good water quality and habitat,” he said. “Healthy fish habitat is critical.”
But assuring the future of healthy aquatic habitat is anything but simple, because clean water depends on all that happens across a watershed, the hundreds or thousands of acres that drain into any particular lake or stream.
“When you lift a fish out of the water, that fish is a reflection of all that happens on the land,” Peterson said. “If we want to maintain great fishing, we need to focus more effort at the landscape and watershed scale.”
Peterson compares fisheries management to a three-legged stool: one leg is stocking fish, one leg is regulations that help control harvest, and one leg is habitat. Historically, the first two legs have been a little longer and more robust than the last one. The new plan aims to rectify that imbalance by directing staff and other resources to habitat protection and restoration.
While past fisheries habitat projects focused more on near-shore efforts such as protecting aquatic vegetation and stream channel improvements, the new approach seeks to move away from the water’s edge to encompass entire watersheds.
Because the DNR has little authority over land use – a chief determinant of water quality – working at the watershed level will rely more extensively on collaboration and coordination with other DNR divisions, local government, landowners, and other state and federal agencies.
Now there’s collaboration with DNR’s Forestry Division and local soil and water conservation districts to protect the watersheds of lakes with healthy populations of tullibee, a coldwater species sensitive to water quality, which provides important forage for game fish.
In the metro region, watershed scale collaborations with local government and other agencies have helped protect several trout streams, including Dakota County’s Vermillion River, a trophy brown trout stream just a half hour from downtown St. Paul.
While DNR fisheries has undertaken a few larger scale habitat projects before, they tended to be few and far between because there was little funding for big-picture, long-term approaches. The passage in 2008 of a state constitutional amendment dedicating a portion of a sales tax hike to the outdoors and to clean water has changed that. Much of the new habitat plan, available on the DNR website at files.dnr.state.mn.us/fish_wildlife/fisheries/habitat/2013_fishhabitatplan.pdf
, is aimed at better coordination and focus of funding sources to achieve the most bang for the buck.
An increase in fishing license fees – approved by the Legislature last year – also is helping to put more focus on fisheries habitat work. “We’ve always talked about habitat, but there rarely was adequate funding to really attack it at the appropriate scale,” said Jacobson, the fisheries researcher. “The constitutional amendment changes that, and we need to take advantage of it. The amendment is a mandate from the people for us to take fish habitat conservation seriously. This plan helps us do that.”
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Anglers spend $2.4 billion in Minnesota, according to new report
The anglers who enjoy Minnesota’s sky blue waters are a powerful engine for the state’s economy, according to a new survey data released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Direct spending of resident and nonresident anglers in Minnesota totaled $2.4 billion in 2011, the latest year for which information is available. That amount included $1.4 billion on equipment, $925 million on trip-related expenditures and $41 million on various items such as magazines and fishing organization membership dues. Angler spending supports about 35,000 jobs.
“Only three states had higher angling expenditures,” said C.B. Bylander, outreach chief for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fish and Wildlife Division. “Two were Florida and New York, which are high population coastal states. The other was Michigan, which has nearly twice Minnesota’s population and abuts four Great Lakes.”
The economic and participation data is contained in two reports. One is the Minnesota report of the “2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.” The other is a related report titled “Sportfishing in America produced by the American Sportfishing Association.”
The federal survey found angler spending has declined by $315 million since 2006 when the last survey was conducted. The survey put the average amount spent per angler – $1,537, down from $1,843 in 2006. The average angler fished 14 days per year; collectively anglers fished 21.7 million days.
The 2011 survey ranks Minnesota second in the nation for angling participation. Thirty-two percent of residents age 16 or older have a fishing license. Only Alaska, at 40 percent, has a higher participation rate. Minnesota has about 1.5 million licensed anglers, a number that has remained relatively stable for many years.
The federal survey of hunting, fishing and wildlife-related recreation listed total direct expenditures by hunters and anglers at $3.3 billion, about $300 million less than 2006. Together, hunting and fishing supports 48,000 Minnesota jobs.
Hunting expenditures by residents and nonresidents totaled $1.1 billion. Direct spending by Minnesota hunters totaled $725 million of which $400 million was for equipment, $235 million for trip-related expenses and $90 million for magazines, land-leasing and other expenses. The average hunter spent $1,412 up from $889 in 2006.
The survey determined the average hunter hunted 12 days; collectively hunters hunted 5.6 million days. Minnesota ranks ninth in the nation for resident hunter numbers. Minnesota has about 570,000 hunters age 16 or older, a number that has remained stable for many years.
“At 32 percent, Minnesota’s fishing participation rate is more than double the national average of 14 percent,” Bylander said. “Similarly, at 11 percent Minnesota’s hunting participation rate is nearly double the national average of 6 percent.” Bylander said sustaining Minnesota’s strong hunting and fishing heritage revolves largely around conserving habitat, effectively managing game species and introducing someone new to these activities. “Most people would welcome the opportunity to fish or hunt . . . . they just need to be asked and given some on-going support,” he said.
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DNR advises checking status of boat ramps, campgrounds, roads and trails before traveling
Before venturing out to campgrounds, trails and public water accesses statewide, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) advises people to check online or call ahead to avoid surprises.
“Winter weather is always a challenge to public water access,” said Nancy Stewart, DNR public access program coordinator. “Because of the late ice out this year, DNR crews have been unable to inspect and repair launch ramps or put the docks in at the DNR-operated public water access sites. We will get them ready as soon as possible, but we are at the mercy of Mother Nature right now.”
Meanwhile, at Minnesota state parks, the cold weather has kept water shut off and RV dump stations closed at many campgrounds.
“Winter conditions persist at Gooseberry Falls State Park and many other parks around the northland,” said Park Manager Audrey Butts. “We’ve had some folks arrive with camping reservations without knowing in advance what to expect – which has been unplowed roads and a foot of snow in their site.”
As for roads and trails, the DNR anticipates the need for temporary closures in state forests, state parks, recreation areas and wildlife management areas, due to wet conditions. Road and trail conditions are deteriorating rapidly this spring, and many are not yet firm enough to support vehicle traffic without being damaged. The temporary closures could remain in effect until sometime in May, depending on weather conditions.
For updates on lake ice out or conditions at specific state trails or state forest roads and trails, check the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov.
People can also call the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays. For conditions at state parks, check the visitor alerts on the individual park pages at www.mndnr.gov or call the parks directly.
For ice out conditions: www.dnr.state.mn.us/ice_out/index.html
State trails: www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_trails/list.html
State parks: www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/list_alpha.html
State forest roads and trails: www.dnr.state.mn.us/trailconditions/index.html
Cormorants to be controlled on Lake Vermilion
Double-crested cormorants will be controlled at Lake Vermillion this spring in an effort to limit the number of birds that eat yellow perch and potentially small walleye, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The action follows several years of surveys that show a consistently lower perch population in the lake’s east bay. Perch are the lake’s primary forage fish for walleye.
“We believe cormorant predation is the likely cause of fewer perch being caught in survey nets,” said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries policy and research manager. “This conclusion is based on the ‘weight of evidence’ that came from analyzing fish population data.”
Double-crested cormorants established 32 nests on Vermillion’s Potato Island in 2004. The colony has steadily increased. In 2012, 424 nests were counted, nearly a 30 percent increase from 2011. Lower perch counts were first noticed in 2007 and have remained depressed ever since. Reduced perch numbers have not resulted in significantly lower walleye counts in the 39,000-acre St. Louis County lake.
Edie Evarts, DNR Tower area fisheries supervisor, said the upcoming cormorant control is designed to reduce the possibility of lower walleye numbers in the future. “Limited control measures are a reasonable approach to insure cormorant impacts to the perch population do not result in a declining walleye population as well,” Evarts said. The agency is applying what it has learned about cormorant impacts on fish populations over the past decade, she said.
The proposed control will consist of culling 10 percent of the adult birds present and oiling the eggs of all nesting pairs. Oiling prevents the eggs from hatching. Together, this approach controls existing numbers of birds, eliminates new production and reduces fish consumption that would have occurred from feeding and raising young birds. This initial control strategy will be monitored for effectiveness by measuring perch abundance in annual netting surveys and counting the number of nesting pairs of cormorants each year.
Future control recommendations will be adjusted by the response of perch abundance to the control implemented. The control is being implemented under a public resource depredation order administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Cormorants are native to Minnesota. The statewide population is estimated at about 40,000 birds. Like bald eagles and other fishing-eating birds, their abundance has increased in recent decades due to the elimination of the pesticide DDT, which had a negative impact on reproduction, and protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In most places where colonies exist, popular fisheries have not been affected.