Local anglers get final words on northern pike proposal
WILLMAR -- Anglers in the Willmar area got the last words in on a proposal by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to change northern pike regulations.
WILLMAR - Anglers in the Willmar area got the last words in on a proposal by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to change northern pike regulations.
Green Lake walleye anglers expressed some concerns about how the change might affect their favorite waters, but otherwise there were few objections raised. About three dozen anglers attended a DNR-sponsored meeting Wednesday evening in Willmar.
It marked the final of 11 meetings held around the state to gather input on a proposal to divide northern pike management into three zones, with regulations specific to each.
“We’re trying to address the expectations of anglers,’’ said Jack Lauer, regional fisheries manager with the DNR in New Ulm when introducing the proposal. “This isn’t a DNR-concocted proposal.’’
Anglers want to catch larger fish. In the north central portion of the state, they are especially frustrated by the large populations of stunted “hammer handle’’ northern pike that dominate in many lakes, he explained.
The proposed rule changes would place Kandiyohi County in the southern zone, where regulations would allow the harvest of two northern pike over 24 inches. Currently the statewide regulations allows for a harvest of three northern pike, with one over 30 inches allowed.
Ann Latham and Duane Hanson were among the Green Lake anglers expressing their concerns. They believe the 24-inch minimum regulation would protect small northern pike, meaning there would be more of them to prey on the walleye fingerlings stocked in the lake. The lake has lost much of the yellow perch and crayfish that serve as forage for predator fish, so the hungry pike will certainly target the small walleye, they said.
“It makes no sense,’’ said Latham of protecting northern pike.
Dave Coahran, fisheries supervisor with the DNR in Spicer, said he doesn’t expect the regulation to have the effect they fear. Green Lake does not naturally produce large numbers of northern pike. He has not seen a year when natural reproduction created a sizable population of small, hungry northern pike that would focus on stocked walleye.
And, the proposed regulation should serve to allow the smaller northern pike present in the lake to grow to medium-sized fish. They would be more likely to target and control smaller northern pike than walleye fingerlings, he said.
When it comes to walleyes in Green Lake, the main issue is the lack of forage fish, according to the fisheries supervisor. “In my opinion, the perch population isn’t providing that buffer to protect walleye from being eaten by all predators, not just northern pike,’’ Coahran said.
The local fisheries supervisor said that overall the regulation proposal should help improve the size of northern pike harvested in the southern zone.
In the southern zone, most lakes have smaller populations of northern pike, but they grow rapidly. With lots of fishing pressure, most are harvested when they are small, only 22 inches in length or less. By protecting them, they can grow to the 24-inch to 30-inch medium range before being harvested, he explained.
Kandiyohi County lakes are immediately south of the state Highway 55 boundary being used to divide the southern and north central zones. Some lakes in Kandiyohi County do experience years with large year classes of northern pike, Coahran said. Yet overall, he said the regulation should tend to improve the size of harvested northern pike for most anglers in the county.
Along with the discussions about Green Lake, comments at the open portion of the meeting ranged from support for the proposal to complaints about predation by cormorants.
Darkhouse spearers are paying attention to the proposal, since the regulations would require judging fish size. Lauer said there are proposals for revised winter rules in the north central and northeast zones to accommodate the concerns.
The spearing proposal for the southern zone makes no changes, and those spearing would have to abide by the 24-inch minimum rule.
Lauer said the DNR is still inviting public comment. It will bring a final version of the proposal to the Legislature for approval in the coming session. If made into law, the changes would go into effect in March 2017.
Anglers still have opportunities to comment on the proposals by going online. To learn more about the proposal and comment go to: www.dnr.state.mn.us/pike/index.html .
The Northeast zone would allow the harvest of two northern pike, with a maximum size of 30 inches.
The North Central zone would allow a daily bag limit of 10 northern pike, but use a protected slot for those 22 to 26 inches. Anglers could keep two over 26 inches.
The Southern Zone would allow a limit of two fish with a minimum length of 24 inches.