FISHING ARTICLES

The following series of articles are written by and included with permission of the DNR Fisheries Office in Walker MN.

Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources - Division of Fisheries:

Doug Schultz, Large lake Specialist - doug.schultz@dnr.state.mn.us

Articles on this page: (click for a speedy move to the start of an article)


Cormorant Control - January 2009 Top

To date, 12,357 double-crested cormorants (eggs, juveniles and adults) have been removed from Leech Lake under the supervision of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.  This is a correction of the 9,487 birds reported in the last update and in this year's Large Lake Report.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has published a proposed rule and Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) to extend the expiration dates of current double-crested cormorant depredation orders.


Muskie Spawn-take on Leech Lake Creates Good Fishing Elsewhere top

Every five years, large-frame trap nets make their way into Leech Lake.  The target of these traps is muskie, or more precisely, muskie egg and sperm.   Leech Lake muskie are at the heart of the DNR's muskellunge stocking program.  Although Minnesota boasts more naturally reproducing muskie than any other state, only 40 lakes and rivers have naturally occurring muskie.  Thanks to stocking, now 80 lakes support a fishable population of muskie.  Through research, it was determined that muskies from Leech Lake provide the best growth and largest size.  Since getting eggs and sperm from Leech Lake is quite an undertaking, several small brood stock lakes around the state have been established.  These lakes are sampled more frequently.  And, once every five years, these brood stock lakes are given a new source of fish from Leech Lake to ensure they remain a vital source of muskie for future years.

Unlike the spawn take operations for walleye on other lakes, very few muskie are required from Leech Lake to obtain the desired quantity of eggs.  For most years, fewer than six females will provide sufficient eggs to stock the brood stock lakes.  In years when eggs are taken from Leech Lake, roughly 10 percent are returned to Leech Lake in the form of fingerlings.  This is a DNR policy to ensure that Leech Lake's muskellunge population is not negatively impacted.


Leech Lake Creel Survey Begins In 2004 top

It is time once again for a Leech Lake creel survey.  "Creel" is an old term describing a basket, often made of wicker that anglers once used to hold their catch. Throughout the summer on lakes across the state, DNR creel clerks ask anglers what time they started and stopped fishing, the number of people in their party, the species of fish they sought, and the weight, length, and number of fish they either kept or released. For the next few summers, anglers can expect to see Leech Lake creel clerks on a frequent basis.  Two consecutive winter creel surveys are also planned.  Creel surveys help assess the effectiveness of fisheries management techniques by measuring angler success. Sometimes anglers are asked what type of equipment they use, which is how we learned that the percentage of boats with depth finders has more than tripled since the 1970s.

Creel survey information helps fisheries managers determine fishing pressure, the size and number of fish harvested on a particular lake, and angler catch rates. That information, in turn, helps us determine how best to manage fish populations.  For example, Leech Lake has a safe harvest level of 209,000 pounds for walleye.  If the estimated angler harvest exceeds this level on a frequent basis, more restrictive regulations may be necessary.  Creel survey information is critical to the management of many lakes. 

Angler cooperation is vital and much appreciated during creel surveys.   We look forward to sharing our information with you.


Just How Old is That Fish? top

Critical to fisheries management is being able to assign an age to fish that are sampled.  Fortunately for biologists, many fish are cooperative in that they record their growth - and age - on their bones.  Scales, opercles (gill plates), and fin rays all record fish growth in a manner that allows age interpretation.

Like a tree, fish lay down one annular ring, or annulus, on otoliths ever year.  Fortunately, non-lethal scale sampling can be used to age fish, although they require more interpretation as they lay down numerous circuli every year.  Knowing the age of fish sampled in fisheries assessments makes it possible to determine annual mortality rates, the size of a given year class, and to assess how successful a stocking program is, to name just a few.


Catch and Release Helps Ensure Good Fishing top

The Leech Lake area provides some of the finest sport fishing opportunities in the state of Minnesota.  The quality and diversity of habitat present in Leech Lake supports naturally reproducing populations of walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, muskellunge,  largemouth bass and crappie.  While well known for its muskellunge fishing, the primary species sought by most anglers is the walleye.

To help maintain or improve the walleye fishing in Leech Lake, many local groups in cooperation with the DNR are sponsoring a voluntary catch and release program.  On Leech Lake, 20-30% of walleye greater than 20 inches in length are released.  These numbers are promising and are in part a result of the voluntary catch and release program.

Catch and release fishing creates a great opportunity for anglers to maintain and potentially improve the size structure of the population.  It is not a new concept and has been tremendously successful for improving the quality of trout, bass and muskellunge fishing in a number of states including Minnesota.  Quality size walleye released today have the potential to be recaptured as trophies down the road.  Most large walleye are female; thus, the practice of releasing these fish insures sufficient numbers of spawners will be available each spring.

Sponsors of the Leech Lake Area Voluntary Catch & Release Program:  Leech Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, North Star Sportsmen Club, Leech Lake Association, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.


Experimental Regulations:  "No Pain - No Gain" top

From the Minnesota DNR 2002 Fisheries Newsletter.  Edited by Harlan Fierstine,
Area Fisheries Supervisor and Pat Rivers, Large Lake Specialist (Leech Lake).

Six of the ten largest walleye lakes in Minnesota have experimental regulations on walleye.  These regulations place stricter limits on a given lake than the statewide regulation of a six walleye limit, with only one over 24 inches.  Most of these stricter regulations involve a protected slot limit (PSL).  For example, a PSL of 17-26 inches prohibits walleye harvest within this slot limit.  The chances of the regulation improving a fishery diminish with each inch taken out of the PSL. For example, based on the 1999 creel, a 17-26 inch PSL would have protected 26 percent of the harvested walleye.  By changing the PSL to 18-26 inches, only 14 percent of the walleye harvested would have been spared the frying pan. That 1 inch nearly doubles the number of walleye protected!

To be effective, a PSL needs to do what its name implies-protect fish.  The long and the short of it is that in order to get a benefit from an experimental regulation, anglers have to give up something in the short term.  Some feel that Leech Lake should have a more restrictive regulation for walleye.  Modeling done by the DNR suggests a 17-28 inch protected slot limit would not significantly change catch rates for all walleye.  Such a regulation likely would increase catch rates for larger walleye (>20 inch), however, it is unclear as to whether an angler would notice the difference.  Although no decision has been made to go forward with an experimental regulation at this time, we continue to solicit stakeholders as to their opinion for or against experimental regulations.  Look for public meetings to be held in the coming months or let us know personally how you feel about experimental regulations on Leech Lake.


Heterosporis Update top

From the Minnesota DNR 2002 Fisheries Newsletter.  Edited by Harlan Fierstine,
Area Fisheries Supervisor and Pat Rivers, Large Lake Specialist (Leech Lake).
 

Yellow perch sampled in gillnets in 2001 were again examined for the presence of the microsporidian parasite, Heterosporis sp.  Walleye were examined for the first time in 2001.  Fillets of infected fish have a "cooked" or "freezer burn" appearance.  The infection is only visible by inspection of the fillet.  Of the 475 perch examined, 15 or  3.2% were infected.  This is down from last year’s infection rate of 10.9%.  Although Heterosporis was confirmed in several angler-caught walleye last year, no walleye was confirmed as infected in DNR sampling this year.  Heterosporis does not infect people and infected fillets can be safely consumed.  All fish, however, should be properly cooked.

To reduce the chance of spreading this parasite, anglers are encouraged to:

  1. Properly dispose of infected fish.  This is accomplished through being burned, buried, or placed in a landfill.  DO NOT throw known infected fish back into the lake.
  2. Thoroughly dry all equipment and boat exteriors before using other water bodies.
  3. Drain all live wells, bait buckets, and bilges.  Disinfect these areas using one cup of bleach in five gallons of water prior to moving to another water body.

Did You Know? top

From the Minnesota DNR 2002 Fisheries Newsletter.  Edited by Harlan Fierstine,
Area Fisheries Supervisor and Pat Rivers, Large Lake Specialist (Leech Lake).

  • The average annual walleye harvest for Leech Lake during the last two creel surveys was 174,100 pounds.
  • The estimated annual angling pressure exceeds 1.1 million hours.
  • Opening weekend accounts for 8% of the annual angling pressure and 17% of the harvest.
  • Approximately 40% of the annual walleye harvest occurs in May.
  • You can age a fish by patterns recorded on its scales and other bony structures.
  • A 23 inch female walleye may have over 50,000 eggs.
  • Yellow perch grow approximately 1 inch per year.

If you have any questions or comments regarding Leech Lake or other Walker area lakes please contact the Walker Area Fisheries Office, 07316 State 371 NW, Walker MN 55484 or telephone 218-547-1683. General information is available at the Minnesota DNR web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us or by calling toll-free 1-888-MINNDNR.


The Fate of a Year Class - top

From the Minnesota DNR 2001 Fisheries Newsletter.  Edited by Harlan Fierstine,
Area Fisheries Supervisor and Pat Rivers, Large Lake Specialist (Leech Lake).

As anglers are gearing up to fish Leech Lake, the fate of a fish population is being determined below the water's surface. Walleye and other fish encounter obstacles from egg to adult, and people can help by protecting natural habitat in the lake and surrounding watershed. Many factors must come together to produce a strong year class of walleye. First of all, a good number of eggs must hatch. A spawning female walleye commonly lays thousands of eggs each year. To survive, these eggs must be quickly fertilized by a male walleye. Poor spawning habitat, predation, disease, weather events, and many other factors can kill many of the developing eggs before they hatch. Once the eggs hatch, the walleye fry must soon find food to live and grow. If food is abundant, more fry will survive; if food is scarce, more will die. Predation and competition between fry for food influence this stage of year class development. Growth of these young of the year fish is crucial to their survival. If growth is good, by the end of August young of the year walleye, now called fingerlings, are nearing 6 inches in length. Larger fingerlings in good condition have a better chance to survive during the winter months when the food supply decreases. Typically, after the second growing season, the abundance of a walleye year class has been established. The relative strength of this year class depends on how well this group of fish weathered their early life. Fortunately, Leech Lake has an abundance of suitable walleye spawning habitat and adequate numbers of spawning fish. Leech Lake has the most consistent walleye reproduction of Minnesota's large walleye lakes, and the current population is made up of a number of strong year classes. However, any lake, even large lakes like Leech, is susceptible to human induced habitat problems. Human activity and careless development within the watershed of Leech Lake can degrade water quality and habitat necessary for healthy fish populations. Altering a shoreline and removing upland or aquatic vegetation can accelerate erosion and increase the amount of sediment in the water. This sediment load can be deposited over spawning areas used by walleye and other species and negatively affect year class production. Although a shoreline development project may appear small to the individual, a number of these small projects can have cumulative effects on fish populations. Habitat protection is truly the best long-term strategy to give young walleye a helping hand and to provide quality angling opportunities for the future.

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