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DNR thinks big for northerns
Agency has a plan to grow trophy pike in 30 to 50 Minnesota lakes


The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wants to begin growing larger northern pike for the state's anglers.

Beginning next spring, the agency plans to put special northern pike regulations on 30 to 50 lakes in hopes of doing just that.

The DNR on Tuesday identified 77 lakes that it's considering for the regulations. After public hearings this fall, the DNR will make its final decision on which 30 to 50 lakes will get the special rules. They will go into effect with the 2003 fishing season.

Each lake will fall into one of three regulation categories:

A 24- to 36-inch protected slot limit, in which all northerns from 24 to 36 inches must be immediately released. The limit would be three, with only one longer than 36 inches.

A 30-inch minimum size limit, with a limit of one northern.

A 40-inch minimum size limit, with a limit of one northern.

The regulations would apply on just 1 percent of all northern pike lakes in the state, said Ron Payer, director of the DNR Fisheries Division. The selected lakes would all have the biological potential to grow big pike, he said.

The special regulations are designed to reverse a long-term decline in the size of pike that anglers catch.

"There's clearly a decline, as there has been for several other species,'' Payer said. "But the northern pike has had one of the most remarkable declines in size.''

Lakes being considered for special pike regulations will be posted at their boat landings this summer so anglers can be made aware of possible changes. The DNR will hold meetings this fall to get anglers' opinions on the proposals. Then a final set of lakes will be selected.

"I think it's a good idea,'' Grand Rapids guide Tom Neustrom said of the proposal. "I think they have to start somewhere. They took a common-sense approach when selecting the bodies of water. And it's a moderate deal. They're not looking at 500 lakes.''

Most anglers target walleyes, not northern pike, said John Chalstrom of Chalstrom's Bait & Tackle in Duluth.

"I don't think there's going to be that much interest in it, except the strict northern pike fishermen will be happy because they know there will be some lakes where there are real trophies,'' Chalstrom said.

Neustrom was part of an advisory group that studied statewide fishing bag limits from 1999 to 2001. That committee recommended increasing the pike bag limit from three to four, with a 24- to 40-inch protected slot, allowing just one northern over 40 inches. But that proposal wasn't accepted by most anglers during subsequent public meetings, fisheries officials said.

Payer said the special regulations would make things more difficult for spearers, who have no opportunity to release a speared fish. They would have to make sure a fish they speared was not in the protected slot or was longer than the minimum size requirement. Some spearers may elect to move to lakes without special regulations, Payer said.

Rod Pierce, a DNR fisheries research biologist, said the 77 lakes were chosen based on their potential to grow large pike. The DNR looked for lakes with cool-water refuges where big fish could find oxygen in summer; lakes with adequate forage, especially tullibee; and lakes with limited natural reproduction, where northern pike are fewer in number but can grow rapidly.

Once in place, the special regulations would have to be in effect for six to 10 years before fisheries officials can determine how well the rules are working, Payer said.

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