DNR anticipates abundance of walleye, pike
Out of the 1.4 million licensed anglers in Minnesota, about half a million will take part in the tradition of fishing opener, which this year falls on May 11 (today).
Fishing opener marks the day fishing can begin for walleye, northern pike and trout in lakes. Fishing remains open all year for many species, including popular and fast-biting fish like sunfish and crappies.
Minnesota has 11,842 lakes, 4,500 of which are considered fishing lakes. The DNR LakeFinder provides detailed information about these lakes. According to the DNR, there are over 16,000 miles of fishable rivers and streams in Minnesota, including 3,800 miles of trout streams. Although not every kind of fish lives everywhere, 162 species of fish can be found in Minnesota waters.
Fishing contributes $2.4 billion to the state's economy in direct retail sales, ranking Minnesota third in the nation for angler expenditures, according to this 2011 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service national survey. Fishing supports nearly 35,500 Minnesota jobs, according to Sportfishing in America, January 2013, produced by Southwick and Associates.
Regional fishing report
The DNR reports that walleye populations in natural walleye lakes and many stocked lakes have excellent abundance and fish of a variety of sizes.
Walleye anglers can expect excellent walleye fishing on large walleye lakes, particularly on Leech, Upper Red, Lake of the Woods and Cass lakes. The walleye population on Leech remains strong and anglers can expect abundant walleye from 12 to 26 inches.
The northwest region boasts arguably the best trophy northern pike lakes in the state of Minnesota: Lake of the Woods and Upper Red Lake. While opening weekend is not typically prime time for big pike, anglers should not rule out an encounter with one of these brutes. Anglers are reminded that special regulations are in place to protect large pike on both of these waters and about 50 other lakes in the region.
Pike zone regulations
This year in 2019 will be the second year with the statewide northern pike zone regulations. The new statewide northern pike regulations are based on management zones that have been tailored to the specific population characteristics of each zone. Much of northwest Minnesota lies in the north-central zone which has regulations.
In the Park Rapids area, anglers can keep up to 10 northern pike, but not more than two pike can be longer than 26 inches, and all from 22 to 26 inches must be released. This will affect all lakes that do not have special northern pike regulations already.
Some Park Rapids area lakes have special or experimental regulations that differ from statewide regulations. Note specific regulations in the 2019 Minnesota fishing regulations.
• All species: Lester and LaSalle.
• Bass: Little Mantrap and George.
• Crappie: Big Mantrap and Spider
• Northern pike: Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Crow Wing; George; Big Mantrap (Mantrap) and Blueberry.
• Walleye: Big Sand and Kabekona.
Kabekona Lake (2,433 acres) is located about three miles south of Laporte. It has a maximum depth of 133 feet. Kabekona Lake has had an experimental walleye regulation since 2006. Currently, all walleye between 20 and 26 inches must be immediately released. Anglers are allowed to harvest walleye less than 20 inches and one over 26 inches in a possession limit of four. The regulation was intended to improve natural reproduction of walleye. Evaluations indicate that more young walleye are being naturally produced, and abundance in 2017 was the highest ever observed at Kabekona. There were plenty of walleye in the protected size range, but there are also more 15 to 20 inch fish in recent years than there ever have been.
Northern pike have never been very abundant in Kabekona, but they can reach good sizes, according to the DNR. Largemouth and smallmouth bass, black crappie, bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish can also be found in this lake, but those species are not abundant.
Upper and Lower Bottle Lakes
Upper and Lower Bottle Lakes (459 and 641 acres) have maximum depths of 55 and 110 feet. During assessments of the lakes in 2013, walleye abundance was higher in both lakes than any previous sample. Abundance declined in 2018 samples, but was still higher than other similar lakes. Strong year classes of walleye have been observed from both stocked and non-stocked years, suggesting that stocking and natural reproduction are both contributing to the lakes' walleye populations. Most of the walleyes in the 2018 samples were 14 to 17 inches, with fish up to 24-1/2 inches.
Northern pike are very abundant in the Bottle Lakes. Most are 17 to 25 inches, with fish up to 39 inches sampled. Largemouth Bass are not real abundant, but can range up to 19 inches. Smallmouth bass were lower in abundance, and reached 16-1/2 inches in the 2018 sample. Crappies are not very abundant, but can be good sized.
Eleventh Crow Wing Lake
Eleventh Crow Wing Lake (751 acres) has a maximum depth of 80 feet. It has very good water clarity, so it can be difficult to fish, but it has an excellent walleye population. Walleye abundance has been pretty consistent since the early 1990s, well above other similar lakes and above the management goal during the last survey in 2016. There were a lot of 14- to 19-inch walleye in the 2016 survey, and fish up to 28 inches were sampled.
Northern pike abundance can provide another option if walleye are not cooperative. Pike abundance has been about normal compared to other similar lakes. Most northern pike sampled in 2016 were in the 18- to 26-inch size range, but individuals up to 40 inches have been sampled in the past. Eleventh Crow Wing also supports a good population of largemouth bass, with sizes well distributed up to 19 inches.