Red Lake walleye recovery pact marks 15 years

It will be 15 years ago Wednesday since I drove to Red Lake, Minn., to attend the ceremony marking the signing of a walleye recovery agreement between the Red Lake Band of Chippewa and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Walleye populations in state and tribal waters of Red Lake had crashed from years of overfishing, and the calamity brought two sides divided by cultures and the largest lake in Minnesota together in ways never before seen.

There was plenty of reason for optimism that sunny Friday afternoon in April, but there also was uncertainty about whether the recovery program would work and if it did, how long it would take. Big sacrifices were made, and both jurisdictions agreed to close the lake to walleye fishing until the population had recovered.

Few events I’ve had the privilege of covering over the years can match the Red Lake walleye recovery, and I’ve gotten to know people on both sides of the lake during my years of reporting on the walleye comeback.

It’s been quite a ride, including an unexpected explosion in crappies, which moved in to fill the void when walleye populations collapsed. Once word got out that Red Lake was teeming with slab crappies, the area went from bust to boom practically overnight. The crappie boom, driven by a mammoth 1995 hatch, lasted until about 2005.

It was a phenomenon never to be repeated for those of us who were lucky enough to experience it.

Boosted by fry stocking campaigns in 1999, 2001 and 2003, walleye populations rebounded faster than anyone could have imagined, and the Red Lakes reopened to fishing in state and tribal waters in 2006.

I look back on the 15-year anniversary of the walleye agreement in Sunday’s Northland Outdoors section. In word, the lake is “recovered.” Check it out on Page E1 Sunday.

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