Heinrich Leaves Lake Of The Woods To Become DNR’s Mille Lacs Lake Fisheries Supervisor

Lake of the Woods’ loss is Mille Lacs Lake’s gain.

Tom Heinrich

Tom Heinrich, large lake specialist who has worked in the DNR’s Baudette area fisheries office since 1990, has left the Lake of the Woods area to supervise fisheries management on Mille Lacs.

Heinrich starts his new job as Mille Lacs Lake fisheries supervisor Wednesday and will be based in Garrison, Minn.

“We’re pleased that Tom Heinrich has accepted this new role,” Brad Parsons, DNR central region fisheries manager, said in a news release. “He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge from other large walleye lakes in Minnesota and elsewhere, strong scientific skills and an open ability to communicate with and relate to various groups in the public.”

I’ve come to known Heinrich both as a source and a friend over the past several years, and I’m going to miss working with him covering Lake of the Woods and Rainy River surveys and issues. Whether stories about Lake of the Woods’ sturgeon recovery, tagging along on population surveys or just getting his insights into why fishing was good or poor in a particular year, talking with Heinrich always was a pleasure.

He’s smart and good at dealing with both the media and the public, traits that will serve him well in working on Mille Lacs, a lake that continues to make news as fisheries managers try to reverse an ongoing decline in walleye stocks.

One of my favorite Heinrich memories happened a few years back on the Red River, where he played host to a couple of local media types who were tagging along on a DNR-led survey of fish populations on the river.

Heinrich didn’t normally work on the Red River but for whatever reason, he was on that particular day.

Part of the survey involved aging some of the fish they caught on the river. Doing that meant removing the otolith, an inner ear bone that has rings just like a piece of wood when cut into cross sections.

Biologists age the fish by counting the rings, and removing the otolith requires sawing the fish’s head open.

“Does that hurt the fish?” a media person onboard (not me!) asked Heinrich as he sawed open the head of a large walleye.

He could have rolled his eyes (that’s what I was doing, he told me later) and offered a terse, smart-alecky answer to such a question, but instead, he patiently explained that the procedure did indeed require killing the fish in the name of science.

That’s Heinrich.

Before joining the DNR in Baudette, Heinrich began his natural resources career working as a fisheries technician on Lake Erie from 1984 until 1990. He became large lake specialist for Lake of the Woods in 1991 and served in that role until taking the Mille Lacs position.

As any reporter will attest, building trust and rapport with sources takes time. I had both with Heinrich, and whoever replaces him in Baudette is going to have some big shoes to fill.