SPICER — A favorite summertime activity for guests at the Diamond Lake Resort in Kandiyohi County is to take the kids out fishing for bluegill.

Resort owner Bob Schimerowski said his guests are often surprised by the size of the sunfish that keep the young anglers busy and excited.

It’s why the resort owner is among those who can be counted in favor of the Quality Bluegill Initiative that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is proposing. Anything that can help maintain the good size and numbers of bluegill in the lake is a good thing, the resort owner said.

The DNR is seeking support to place reduced limits for bluegills on up to 123 new lakes in 2021. There are currently reduced limits for bluegill on 57 lakes, according to information presented by the DNR during a series of virtual public input meetings last week.

The proposal would put 5- and 10-fish limits on the chosen lakes in place of the statewide 20-fish bag limit. The possession limit would remain at 20 fish. Guests at the Diamond Lake Resort would still be able to return home with plenty of sunfish for the frying pan.

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Anglers who have responded to an online survey offered by the DNR have mainly supported the special regulations, according to information presented by the agency at the online meetings.

There are six lakes proposed for special regulations in Kandiyohi County. Big Kandiyohi, Diamond, Florida and George lakes are being considered for five-fish bag limits. Long Lake by Hawick and Nest Lake are being considered for 10-fish limits.

Dave Coahran, Spicer area fisheries supervisor with the DNR, submitted the lakes for consideration based on their potential to produce populations of quality bluegills. He also gathered input from lakes associations and anglers in the area, and has been encouraging input on the proposal.

Coahran said the goal in Kandiyohi County is to maintain the size structure of the bluegill in the selected lakes.

The county has a number of lakes that put out good-sized bluegill. Diamond and Green Lakes are among the best. They continue to put out a number of 10-inch bluegills. Big Kandiyohi is also reputed for holding some larger bluegills.

Just a few weeks ago, an angler dropped by Coahran’s office with a bluegill he thought might be a state record. The bluegill he caught in Nest Lake didn’t quite measure up to the state record of 2.14 pounds, but it was a dandy. Coahran said they put it alongside a graphite replica of the state record fish, and the Nest Lake bluegill looked nearly identical.

The fisheries supervisor said that for the most part, he's heard support for the special regulations in this area. But he said he has also heard some concerns expressed. Only one angler took advantage of an in-person meeting that was held at the Spicer fisheries office. The angler lamented the possibility of a reduced limit on George Lake. The angler told Coahran that he was happy to fillet a mess of smaller bluegill for the occasional fish fry.

The fisheries supervisor pointed out in response that if he took home five bluegill of eight inches or better, he’d have the equivalent in meat of fillets from 20, six-inch bluegill.

The two biggest questions at the virtual meetings have had to do with why the DNR is not looking at a size limit instead of a bag limit, and why it isn’t looking at protecting bluegill from fishing pressure when the big males are on the spawning beds in May and early June.

From a biological perspective, restricting the number of bluegill harvested over a certain size is an effective means of managing the size structure of a bluegill population. And down the road, the DNR is looking at experimenting with a size restriction on a few lakes, according to Dave Weitzel, fisheries supervisor in Grand Rapids.

But he told those participating in last week’s virtual meetings that putting a size limit on fish as small as bluegill is “challenging.” A survey by the University of Minnesota found that most anglers do not support measuring bluegill, he said.

“We feel there is a bit of potential in this, but we feel the public is not quite ready yet,” said Weitzel.

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Restricting the harvest when the bluegill bulls are guarding the spawning beds and most vulnerable to fishing pressure is not likely to produce the results many would expect, according to information presented by the DNR. A creel study conducted on Mazaska Lake by Faribault — a popular sunfish lake — found that anglers were catching bluegill eight inches and larger throughout the year. The average size was good throughout the year. July, August and September saw the greater harvest of large bluegill, not May or June.

Closing the season on bluegill during the spawning period would be problematic for another reason. Bluegill will often spawn a second time, weeks after the spring spawn.

Statewide, the size of bluegills has declined ever since 1948, when the state record bluegill was caught.

The proposed, special regulations are aimed at reversing the decline. Jon Hansen, a fisheries program consultant with the DNR, emphasized that the DNR will only adopt the special regulations on the proposed lakes if public support exists.

This is the last chance to weigh in on it. The online survey is available through the end of the day October 25 on the DNR website at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/fish/sunfish/index.html.