Reduced walleye and sauger bag limits are under serious consideration for the Minnesota waters of Lake of the Woods, according to a newly proposed fisheries management plan for one of the state’s top fishing destinations.
Under one potential change, spring walleye and sauger harvest would be eliminated on the Rainy River and Four Mile Bay. In another shift, the winter season possession limit of eight walleyes or saugers would be dropped to six fish — with no more than four being walleye.
Phil Talmage, Lake of the Woods area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said a 14-member citizens’ group involved in shaping the proposed five-year management plan indicated support for consideration of the changes. The next step for the DNR would be to actually propose the reductions.
“Walleye and sauger populations are doing well,’’ Talmage said. “This would be to help ensure the long-term sustainability of the resource.’’
An explosion in winter fishing pressure on the South Shore of Lake of the Woods is well documented, and the proposed management plan notes that angling effort through ice holes continues to rise. The draft plan calls for “proactive management for long-term sustainability.’’
Dropping the aggregate winter limit from eight walleye/sauger to six fish would reduce the overall sauger harvest and make winter regulations consistent with summer ones. Talmage said recent DNR assessments have measured an overharvest of sauger in relation to the DNR’s annual target harvest for the species.
He said spring fishing pressure also has ballooned on Minnesota’s portion of Lake of the Woods, including the Rainy River. The spring season on Rainy River and Four Mile Bay runs from March 1 to April 14. Anglers have been allowed to keep two fish, with no walleye over 19.5 inches in length.
The draft management plan says the DNR will consider a regulation change that will allow anglers to fish for walleyes and saugers during the season as long as all catches are immediately released. It would reduce the overall walleye take.
Talmage said the change also is being considered because DNR walleye spawning assessments on Lake of the Woods have revealed a decline in the presence of male walleyes. Males are predominant in the spring harvest because they stage in the river and bay just before the spawning season.
The last big change in Minnesota walleye regulations on Lake of the Woods happened in 2004. That’s when a protective slot limit was enacted to spare walleyes from 19.5 to 28 inches.
“Despite the increased pressure and associated harvest, all indications of stock status show a sustainable walleye fishery thrives in Lake of the Woods,’’ the draft management plan says.