It’s not quite official yet, but it’s all but assured that anglers on Upper Red Lake will be able to keep larger walleyes this winter than they have during previous ice fishing seasons, according to an official from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Henry Drewes, regional fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Bemidji, confirmed this morning that Commissioner Tom Landwehr has approved a proposal to relax the protected slot limit this winter on Upper Red and allow anglers to keep larger walleyes.
The bag limit for the winter season will be four walleyes with a 20- to 26-inch protected slot — same as it is for the summer season after mid-June. Previously, the winter limit on Upper Red reverted to four walleyes, with a 17- to 26-inch protected slot, beginning Dec. 1.
Drewes said the DNR was able to implement the relaxed slot — which has been forwarded to the Minnesota attorney general’s office for final approval, a standard rulemaking procedure — because the annual walleye harvest the past two years has been lower than the target.
For the fishing year that starts Dec. 1, Drewes said the target walleye harvest is 84,000 to 168,000 pounds, and anglers this year kept about 70,000 pounds of walleyes.
Because fishing on Upper Red is so good from the May fishing opener to mid-June, when the walleye limit is four with a 17- to 26-inch protected slot, Drewes said loosening the restrictions in the spring wasn’t an option.
“We really can’t do much during the spring, which is the first month (of season) because the bite can be so explosive that even changing length regulations a bit can have a huge effect,” Drewes said. “The winter season is when we have the greatest flexibility to adjust.”
Drewes said the change simplifies winter regulations, because limits won’t revert to the 17- to 26-inch protected slot Dec. 1. He said the DNR again will conduct a creel survey this winter on Upper Red to measure fishing pressure and harvest.
“We’re hoping it does stimulate some additional harvest and angler trips,” Drewes said of the relaxed regulation. “We think this should be appealing to anglers.”