The DNR engaged a group of 14 stakeholders for the purpose of providing input in the management planning process.
This group, referred to as the Lake of the Woods Fisheries Input Group, provided diverse local and statewide perspectives and made recommendations on Lake of the Woods fisheries management.
The 2018-2023 plan builds upon the successes of and knowledge gained from previous plans by recommending specific goals, objectives and management actions aimed at preserving a high-quality, species-diverse fishery on Lake of the Woods.
As one of the 14 member groups of stakeholders, we met five times through the winter, representing the state's citizens walleye group. Other members in the group included resorts, local government, tourism, state and local anglers. Some of the topics included sturgeon, northern-pike musky, aquatic invasive species and the continued change occurring to Lake of the Woods and its tributaries.
No doubt catching the attention of fisherman is the proposed changes to walleye and sauger regulations ﹘ changes intended to reduce walleye and sauger harvest and also to provide protection to pre-spawn walleye during the spring season on the Rainy River.
Options are as follows:
1) Changing the aggregate winter limit from eight walleye/sauger combined with no more than four walleye to an aggregate limit of six, of which no more than four could be walleye. This change would serve to reduce overall sauger harvest and make winter regulations consistent with summer limits.
2) Change the spring angling regulations on the Rainy River and Fourmile Bay (March 1- April 14) from a two-fish limit with no walleye over 19.5 inches to a catch-and-release fishery. This change would reduce overall walleye harvest, while sustaining fishing opportunities. This change would also eliminate spring harvest focus on pre-spawn males, a potential cause of declined male walleye during spawning assessments.
The reason for the change in regulations is members concern about the quadrupling of ice-fishing pressure and harvest realized the past 10 years caused by better equipment, coupled with increased accessibility to the resource. Committee member felt the need to be proactive. Sauger have reached the target harvest goal, with walleye harvest creeping up and not far behind.
Changing the regulations on the Rainy River and Fourmile Bay to catch-and-release only is destined to draw criticism and questions. Test nest results shows a drop in the male walleye population in the Rainy River and Fourmile Bay, and the need make it a catch-and-release fishery.
Chris Granrud, owner of Rainy Daze Guide Service, said, "I deeply care about the resource of the Rainy River and feel making it catch-and-release fishing only will reduce spring fisherman coming to the area, a negative economic impact to the area and no positive results." Granrud adds, "Anglers just want to keep a couple of walleye for a meal or two," and in his opinion, they should be able to."
Grand Rapids area fishing guide Tom Neustrom had this to say: " I can recall when the Rainy River water quality was so bad no one kept any fish out of the river anyway. Anglers still came." Neustrom added, "In my opinion, anglers flock to the Rainy River with the itch to get their boats on the water following a long winter, not to keep fish."
Also part of the discussion, tournaments and event organizers need to be following best practices for the sustainability of the resource, such as a catch, photograph and release format instead of placing fish in a live well at a central location to be weighed and then released.
In July, a public meeting will be held in Baudette to get the public's input. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources encourages the public to attend to voice their concerns, good or bad, about implementing the five-year plan for Lake of the Woods.
In my opinion, this is a excellent plan based on biological, factual data.