Fishing restrictions on Lake Vermilion could be relaxed for next year in light of several indicators that the lake's walleye population is healthy and growing.
"The news is good,'' said Edie Evarts, supervisor of the DNR fisheries office in Tower.
She said the agency won't expand the lake's four-walleye bag limit, but softer limitations are under review in terms of what size of walleyes can be kept. Currently, Vermilion walleyes must be released if they're in the protected slot of 18-26 inches.
Evarts said new options under consideration are a 20- to 26-inch protected slot; an 18- to 22-inch protected slot, or a rule that says one of four keepers can be over 18 inches in length.
She said resort owners, fishing guides and others belonging to a local input group seem to favor the most liberal option (one over 18 inches). But no decisions have been made, and the DNR has scheduled an at-large public input meeting on Vermilion fishing regulations for Oct. 25 in Tower. Any change would be for the 2017 open-water fishing season.
In the coming weeks, seven other public input meetings around the state will be held to review newly proposed fishing regulations. One of those, in Hackensack on Oct. 4, will involve discussion of a proposal for new bag limits for sunfish and black crappie on Little Webb and Moccasin lakes. Another meeting, in Lanesboro on Sept. 19, will be a review of proposed catch-and-release trout regulations on sections of the South Branch of the Root River, Spring Valley Creek and Mill Creek.
Evarts said Lake Vermilion has the luxury of easing walleye regulations because the lake's breeding stock of large females is strong, young walleyes are growing quickly, the lake has an abundant class of walleyes born in 2012, catch rates are high, gill-net surveys have confirmed a resilient overall population and creel surveys in 2014 and 2015 showed annual harvests well below the "safe'' limit of 65,000 pounds.
"We don't have fish number problems,'' said Jay Schelde, owner of Pike Bay Lodge on Lake Vermilion. "Walleye fishing and smallmouth bass fishing have been excellent.''
Schelde and Evarts said the one walleye concern on the lake is that eating-size walleyes are hard to find in the west basin, which seems to be dominated by large walleyes. Evarts said the east and west ends of the lake have different makeups and fish on the west end have traditionally grown faster, reaching the protected slot before they could be harvested. "It's become a refuge for big walleyes,'' she said.
If lakewide restrictions are changed so that 18- to 20-inch fish can be kept, a sizable number of male walleyes in that range would open up the lake for a larger harvest, Evarts said.
Schelde said local stakeholders have one other unresolved concern: too many fish-eating cormorants.
Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213