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