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Metro walleye fishing depends on planned stocking

May 5, 2014

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

If an angler has caught a walleye in an east metro lake any time over the past couple decades, chances are they can thank Donn Schrader.

Around the St. Paul area office of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, he’s sometimes referred to as “Papa Walleye.”

While lakes in central and northern Minnesota can rely upon nature to create a healthy walleye fishery, very little natural walleye reproduction occurs in metro lakes. Add in the heavy angling pressure in the metro region, where some 385,000 licensed anglers reside, and it’s clear nature needs a helping hand.

“Without stocking we wouldn’t really have a walleye fishery in the metro region, other than in our rivers,” said Dave McCormack, central region assistant fisheries manager. “If you catch a walleye in an east metro lake, it’s probably a fish that came through this facility.”

Each spring, Schrader – who has worked at the hatchery since 1987 – receives around 30 million fertilized walleye eggs that have been taken by DNR crews from one of several locations in the northern part of the state.

The eggs arrive in large heavy-duty plastic bags filled with water.

As hatchery manager, it’s his job to make sure that as many of the eggs as possible turn into baby walleyes.

On average, about three out of four eggs hatch after three weeks, with water temperatures kept at 50 degrees.

The dark little squigglers, known as fry, are then transferred into large water jugs and sent out into the world.

Roughly 30 to 40 percent of the fry are put into any of about 20 rearing ponds, which are small basins without other fish.

There, they’ll grow to fingerling size by fall, when DNR fisheries crews return to net them and stock them in larger, fishable lakes.

Each year, east metro lakes are stocked with about 8,000 pounds of walleye fingerlings.

Between 15,000 and 18,000 pounds of fingerlings are added to lakes across the entire seven-county metro region.

The other 60 to 70 percent of the fry go directly into the region’s lakes where, if they’re not eaten by bigger fish or die otherwise, they’ll grow to catchable size in about three years.

Whether a particular basin receives fry or fingerlings, how often and how many, are decisions all based on a lake’s management plan, which takes into consideration the types of other fish present, its size and depth, type of lake bottom, water quality, data from fish surveys, and past experience.

Stocking fry is less costly, and it can produce good results, especially in lakes that have experienced winterkill, as many did this year.

But fry are vulnerable to being eaten by other fish, and don’t do well everywhere.

Centerville Lake in Anoka County, for instance, has built a respectable walleye fishery with regular stockings of walleye fry.

But Forest Lake has done better being stocked with fingerlings every other year.

To some extent, it’s a matter of trial and error.

“In some lakes fry do well, and in some lakes fingerlings do well,” said T.J. DeBates, DNR east metro fisheries manager. “All of our stocking efforts are based on management plans. We don’t just stock willy-nilly.”

In addition to walleye, the St. Paul hatchery produces about 300,000 pure strain muskellunge fry and some hybrids.

Situated just below the bluffs of Mounds Park, the facility is located on the site of the state’s first fish hatchery, established there in 1878 because local springs provided a ready supply of cold clean water, and the nearby railroad tracks made it easy to ship fish all around the state.

The hatchery operations were significantly downsized starting in the 1960s, and now the site and buildings serve as headquarters for the DNR’s central region.

Waverly Gun Club to host hand gun league

The Waverly Gun Club will be hosting a hand gun league at the club.

The league will run for four nights in May, starting Wed., May 7, and continuing May 14, May 21, and May 28.

Shooting starts at 5 p.m. and goes until 8 p.m.

For additional information go to www.waverlygunclub.org, or contact Gary at either (612) 210-5356 or gary51@charter.net.

Ask a friend to go fishing
From the DNR

Want to learn how to fish? Consider asking a friend for help.

“Ask another angler and they’ll likely take you fishing,” said Mike Kurre, mentoring coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The number one thing is to ask. Fishing with someone else can simply be more fun.”

To start, anglers might not need to buy gear or a license because in most cases, Minnesotans don’t need a license to fish in Minnesota state parks and fishing kits can be checked out through a free loaner program. For locations, see www.mndnr.gov/state_parks/loaner.

Classes for kids and adults are listed on the DNR Take a Kid Fishing page at www.mndnr.gov/takeakidgfishing.

They include:
• I Can Fish! Classes led by a naturalist. Discover what it takes to start fishing. Rods, reels and bait provided.
• I Can Trout Fish! Classes provide fishing gear. License requirements are waived. Learn about trout, the food they eat, and how to catch and release trout.
• Fly fishing classes introduce the fundamentals, including how to cast or cast more accurately.

Classes are scheduled from Sunday, May 25, to Saturday, Aug. 30.

Rivers and lakes: cold water and moving fast
From the DNR

As Minnesotans get their fishing gear and boats ready for the 2014 fishing opener, the Department of Natural Resources is urging anxious fishermen and women to keep in mind that lake and river levels are high and the temperature of that water is still cold.

A no-wake zone is currently in effect on the St. Croix River from Taylors Falls to Prescott.

Keller and Spoon lakes in Ramsey County and Crystal Lake in Dakota County are also no-wake.

The Minneapolis locks on the Mississippi River are closed to both recreational and commercial traffic.

“People should always wear their lifejackets every time they step on a boat and especially during times of high and cold water,” said Kara Owens, DNR boating safety specialist. “High water levels mean a fast and strong moving current, which many boat operators are not used to, and that can create dangerous situations.”

The swift current also makes it more difficult for even an experienced swimmer to swim or stay afloat – especially in cold water – if their boat or canoe capsized.

More than 30 percent of boating fatalities in Minnesota happen in cold water – water below 70 degrees – with a victim not wearing a life jacket.

On April 19, a man died after his canoe capsized in Blue Earth County. The victim is the first boating death of 2014.

Thirteen people died in boating accidents in 2013.

Falling into icy water can be deadly because many boaters do not think about the effects of cold water immersion, Owens said.

The shock of the cold water causes an involuntary gasp reflex. It takes less than a half cup of water in the lungs to drown. The shock of sudden entry into the water can also cause cardiac arrest, even for people in good health.

The DNR recommends these safety tips for boaters:

• Wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket.
• Do not overload the boat.
• If boat capsizes, try to reboard or stay with it until rescuers arrive.
• Tell someone fishing destination and planned return time.

For more information, visit DNR website at: www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/boatwater/cold-water.html.

Get outdoors and experience what only Minnesota offers
From the DNR

The canoe paddle in your hands dips into glassy water near Ely. A loon call breaks the quiet. Seeing the sunrise through aspen trees, your canoe loaded with fishing and camping gear, you realize that only in Minnesota could you spend your entire life exploring and never get to all the scenes like these in our great state.

We are blessed in Minnesota to have an abundance of natural resources. Minnesotans love them as do our visitors. So do our children when we explore our state with family, and so do anglers looking forward to the May 10 fishing opener.

Only in Minnesota do we have such a winning combination of lakes and rivers, public accesses, and fish species that make for an overwhelming abundance of quality fishing experiences. We have more than 1.5 million licensed anglers in a state where it’s fair to call fishing the Great Minnesota Pastime.

Yet it’s not a given that we will continue to realize the unique natural beauty that our state has to offer. Adults and children alike have a wide array of recreational options that involve nothing more than electronics. Inertia can keep us on the couch or checking off to-do lists rather than spending life-enriching time on the water. A “plugged in” population tends to “tune out” the outdoors.

That’s why it is as important as ever to get out and enjoy what only Minnesota has to offer. There’s no better time to start than this spring, with a fishing rod in hand when the fish are biting. And consider the opportunities.

Only in Minnesota can you put in a canoe and continue that trip from Ely, paddling the Voyageurs’ canoe route through the border waters wilderness, and land at Grand Portage looking out to the largest freshwater lake in the world. Fantastic fishing for walleyes and smallmouth will keep you busy on the inland waters, and the lake trout is king on Superior.

Fishing for brook trout and steelhead along the North Shore will also bring you through beautiful towns with shopping opportunities like Grand Marais, Two Harbors and Duluth.

Or, head to northwestern Minnesota, near Hallock, where you can fish for giant flathead catfish in the Red River of the North and not far away see trophy, world-class elk running around on some of the largest remnants of tall-grass prairie left on the globe. A short jaunt east lands you in Warroad, on the shores of Lake of the Woods, a truly phenomenal fishery shared with Canada, where giant sturgeon lurk.

Head to southeastern Minnesota, where you can stay at a welcoming bed and breakfast in quaint towns like Lanesboro and Preston, then experience blue ribbon trout fishing in beautiful bluff country. Not far away, the mighty Mississippi River provides outstanding fishing on a dizzying array of species near towns like Winona and Red Wing.

Only in Minnesota can you catch a basket of jumbo perch and dandy walleyes in Big Stone Lake near Ortonville, then head downstream to Lac qui Parle near Appleton and relish the great crappie bite. A short jaunt downstream, near the towns of Olivia and Redwood Falls, 50-pound flathead catfish are caught with regularity in the Minnesota River.

Or, if like me, you live in the cities, don’t go far at all, because only in Minnesota are there so many of these opportunities readily available in a metropolitan area. The Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers are all there to be enjoyed, as are hundreds of lakes with public accesses or public fishing piers.

We have 800,000 registered boats in the state. Hunting and fishing is a $2.4 billion dollar industry here. Visitors to our parks spend about $280 million in this state. And visitors to our trails add $2.6 billion dollars to our local economies.

Spring is when we get outdoors, and after this long winter, we are anxious to do so!

Minnnesota is truly an outstanding place. This fishing opener, get out-of-doors and experience the life that only Minnesota has to offer. What’s your excuse? The fish are biting.

Think Zero at fishing opener
From the DNR

With more than 500,000 people expected take part in the walleye and northern pike season opener on Saturday, May 10, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources urges every angler to make a commitment to transport zero aquatic invasive species (AIS) this year.

Invasive species can be easily carried from one lake to another if aquatic plants and water are left on a boat or trailer.

By taking a few simple precautions anglers can minimize the risk of spreading aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny waterfleas.

Zebra mussels pose serious ecological and economic threats to Minnesota’s lakes and streams.

Heavy infestations can kill native mussels, impact fish populations and interfere with recreation.

“If we can reach our goal of zero AIS violations this year, it’s possible we can end the season with zero new infestations caused by human activity,” said Maj. Phil Meier, DNR Enforcement operations manager.

Conservation officers wrote more than 400 AIS citations at public water accesses last year.

To help bring that number to zero, the DNR plans to increase AIS prevention activities this year.

“We now have more than 1,000 lake service providers trained and permitted in AIS prevention,” said Ann Pierce, section manager, DNR Ecological and Water Resources Division. “We’re also expanding the AIS volunteer educator program, and plan to have more people at public access sites with information on how to prevent the spread of invasive species.”

In addition, 100 more clean-and-drain areas will open at public water accesses statewide.

These special areas provide safe and convenient places for boaters to clean and drain their boats.

To avoid a citation, anglers must take these steps required by law before leaving any water access or shore:

• Clean aquatic plants and animals off boats, trailers and water-related equipment. It is illegal to transport them whether dead or alive.
• Drain water-related equipment (boat, ballast tanks, portable bait container, motor) and drain bilge, livewell, and baitwell by removing drain plugs.
• Keep drain plugs out and water draining devices open while transporting watercraft.
• Dispose of unwanted bait in the trash.
• Some aquatic invasive species are small and difficult to see at the access. To remove or kill them before moving to another body of water, especially after leaving zebra mussel and spiny waterflea infested waters, the DNR recommends that anglers either:
• Spray with high-pressure water.
• Rinse with very hot water (120° for 2 minutes or 140° for 10 seconds).
• Dry boat and equipment for at least five days.

“If everyone follows AIS laws and regulations, and shares the ‘Think Zero’ message with others who spend time fishing, boating or recreating on the water, we can slow the spread of invasive species,” Meier said.

“And, if doing the right thing isn’t enough of an incentive,” Meier said, “be aware that we’ll have more enforcement check stations near public waters this summer. Anglers and boaters can expect to be checked and cited by a conservation officer if found in violation of AIS laws.”

Citations range from $50 to $1,000.

More information, including a new 30-second public service announcement about stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species, is available at www.mndnr.gov/AIS.

Growing Mille Lacs pike population offers anglers more opportunity
From the DNR

There are more northern pike in Mille Lacs Lake than any time in the last 30 years, and they are fast-growing fish.

That’s according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which has increased the bag limit and season length for this popular game fish for the 2014 fishing season as part of an effort to increase angling opportunity.

“Our 2013 northern pike population survey is the highest on record,” said Tim Goeman, DNR regional fisheries manager.

“We’ve never seen so many 1- and 2-year-old fish.”

With Mille Lacs anglers traditionally focusing heavily on walleye, northern pike present a relatively untapped potential for fishing fun, especially with new regulations this year.

Mille Lacs anglers can keep 10 northern pike, including one longer than 30 inches, which represents an increase of seven fish more than last year’s limit on Mille Lacs.

The DNR announced the new regulations this year along with others that can be seen at www.mndnr.gov/fishing/millelacs.

“Our intent is to maximize northern pike fishing opportunity to help support the local economy,” Goeman said. “Walleye population numbers are down, and regulations on them are more restrictive than pike. So, this is a way to responsibly manage an emerging opportunity on a year-to-year basis.”

Mille Lacs northern pike are among the fastest growing in the state.

By age 3, a Mille Lacs pike is typically between 24- and 28-inches long.

That compares to a more typical 18- to 21-inches long for a 3-year-old pike in many other Minnesota lakes.

“There are a lot of nice pike in the lake,” said Goeman, who added that that most anglers have traditionally released what they caught.

In 2013, he said, anglers caught about 19,000 northern pike but kept only 1,600. And that was with a slot limit that protected northern pike that were 33- to 40-inches long.

“The current pike population is estimated at 57,000,” Goeman said. “So even if anglers last year kept every pike they caught the population would be fine.”

In some lakes, northern pike can cause problems when they are under-harvested and consume too much of the prey base. DNR research is under way to determine what role if any an expanding pike population may be having on the Mille Lacs fishing community.

In the meantime, Goeman said anglers should consider keeping a limit of northern pike for a fish fry or pickling. “It won’t be harmful; it will probably be fun,” he said.

Goeman said the higher northern pike population is likely the result of multiple factors.

Mille Lacs water is clearer than 20 years ago, which can benefit site feeders like pike.

Vegetation beds from Eurasian watermilfoil could also benefit such predatory fish.

Additionally, the pike in Mille Lacs generally have an excellent food supply consisting of minnows, perch and ciscoe.

Abundant walleyes await anglers on opener on Leech Lake
From the DNR

The 2014 fishing opener on Leech Lake is expected to be excellent, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Known as one of the state’s top 10 “fish factories,” Leech Lake will boast another year of high walleye abundance and healthy populations of northern pike, largemouth bass and other species frequently pursued by Leech Lake anglers.

This year, those targeting Leech Lake as their opener destination will also be pleased to find increased opportunity for walleye harvest.

Beginning Saturday, May 10, a relaxed protected slot limit for walleye will be in effect allowing anglers to keep walleye up to 20-inches long.

All walleye 20- to 26-inches long must be immediately returned to the water.

The limit of four walleye with one longer than 26 inches allowed in possession has remained unchanged.

“The new regulation is intended to provide additional harvest opportunity while continuing to protect most of the mature female walleye in the population,” said Doug Schultz, Walker area fisheries supervisor. “The Leech Lake Management Plan provides for relaxing the existing protected slot limit if spawning walleye numbers were met.”

Quality fishing opportunities for species other than walleye will be plentiful.

The northern pike population continues to be good.

Anglers can look forward to catching northern pike 24 inches or larger.

The size of yellow perch continues to be good, although anglers can expect to work a bit harder to reach a limit of yellow perch this season.

Good numbers of nice-sized largemouth bass and bluegills exist in Boy, Headquarters, Steamboat and Shingobee bays.

Opportunities for large crappies and excellent muskie fishing should continue in 2014.

Statewide regulations other than walleye apply for all species on Leech Lake.

To monitor changes in fishing pressure and harvest resulting from the new regulation, anglers will be asked about fishing success from May to September 2014 and December 2014 to March 2015.

Anglers can expect to encounter creel clerks at public accesses and resorts.

“Angler cooperation with the brief survey is appreciated,” Schultz said. “It provides valuable information for managing the fishery.”

Bears emerging from hibernation a cause for preparation, not alarm
From the DNR

More bear sightings are being reported in northern Minnesota by Department of Natural Resources wildlife managers as the animals emerge from hibernation and search for food.

Now is a good time for residents who live close to bear habitat to inspect their property for food sources that could attract hungry bears.

With berries and vegetation scarce at this time of year, bears may be tempted by dog food, livestock feed, birdseed, compost or garbage.

“When human-related food is easy to find, bears stop seeking their natural foods,” said John Williams, DNR northwest regional wildlife manager. “These bears eventually get into trouble because they return again and again.”

Unfortunately, food-conditioned bears often end up dead bears.

Bears that are trapped because they have become a nuisance are destroyed rather than relocated.

Relocated bears seldom remain where they are released.

They may return to where they were caught or become a problem somewhere else.

Experience has shown that removing food that attracts bears resolves problems more effectively than attempting to trap and destroy bears.

Bears will not be trapped for causing minor property damage, such as tearing down bird feeders or tipping over garbage cans.

“If a bear enters your yard, don’t panic and don’t approach the bear,” Williams said. “Always leave the bear an escape route. Everyone should leave the area and go inside until the bear leaves on its own.”

Bears are normally shy and usually flee when encountered. But they may defend an area if they are feeding or are with their young.

“Never approach or try to pet a bear, Williams said. “They are unpredictable wild animals. Injury to people is rare, but bears are potentially dangerous because of their size, strength and speed.” A treed bear should be left alone as well. It should leave once the area is quiet.

Some tips for avoiding bear conflicts:

Around the yard
• Do not leave food from barbeques and picnics outdoors, especially overnight. Coolers are not bear-proof.
• Replace hummingbird feeders with hanging flower baskets, which are also attractive to hummingbirds.
• Eliminate bird feeders or hang them 10 feet up and 4 feet out from the nearest trees.
• Where bears are a nuisance, birdfeeders should be taken down between April 1 and Dec. 1.
• Store pet food inside and feed pets inside. If pets must be fed outdoors, feed them only as much as they will eat.
• Clean and store barbeque grills after each use. Store them in a secure shed or garage away from windows and doors.
• Pick fruit from trees as soon as it’s ripe and collect fallen fruit immediately.
• Limit compost piles to grass, leaves and garden clippings, and turn piles regularly.
• Harvest garden produce as it matures; locate gardens away from woods and shrubs that bears may use for cover.
• Use native plants in landscaping whenever possible. Clover and dandelions will attract bears.
• Elevate bee hives on bear-proof platforms or erect properly designed electric fences.
• Do not put out feed for wildlife (corn, oats, pellets, molasses blocks).

Garbage
• Store garbage in bear-resistant garbage cans or dumpsters. Rubber or plastic garbage cans are not bear-proof.
• Keep garbage inside a secure building until the morning of pickup.
• Store recyclable containers, such as pop cans, inside. The sweet smells attract bears.
• Store especially smelly garbage such as meat or fish scraps in a freezer until it can be taken to a refuse site.
• If bear problems persist after cleaning up the food sources, contact a DNR area wildlife office.

For name of the local wildlife manager, contact the DNR Information Center, 651-296-6157, 888-646-6367.

Learn more about living with bears at www.dnr.state.mn.us/livingwith_wildlife/bears/index.html.

How to introduce a kid to fishing
From the DNR

On shore as the lake is warming in the spring, a kid skips stones and occasionally casts a line in the water, while talking to an adult who keeps up casual conversation. Bluegills are the catch of the day.

Kids love to fish. Introducing them to fishing can be rewarding. But taking kids fishing can present new challenges even for experienced anglers.

To help a first-time angler grow into a life-long angler, here are some tips from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Manage expectations – including your own

Remember, the goal is to have fun, said Roland Sigurdson, MinnAqua education coordinator with the DNR. Realize that children can have short attention spans and may want to move on to something else after a short time.

Try looking at bugs or animals or even finding stones to skip.

“You can’t expect children to have the same level of enthusiasm you do the first few trips,” Sigurdson said. “Don’t make fishing a chore for them.”

Above all, have patience. Lines get snagged, hooks need baiting and kids might get dirty or need help taking a fish off the line. Don’t forget to give congratulations, no matter how big the fish.

“Seeing your child enjoy reeling in their first fish is rewarding so don’t forget to take pictures,” Sigurdson said.

Go prepared

Cold, hot, hungry or bitten is no way to learn how to fish.

Remember to bring snacks, sunscreen, insect repellent and first-aid basics to make the trip comfortable for everyone.

When considering a location, choose one that is comfortable and safe.

Look for restrooms, playground equipment, free parking and a public fishing pier.

To find a pier nearby, see www.mndnr.gov/fishing_piers.

Simplify gear, catch fish

Most kids are satisfied catching lots of smaller fish like bluegills rather than fewer, bigger fish like bass.

Live bait increases the chances of catching fish.

“Kids love to catch fish of any size,” Sigurdson said. “They don’t usually begin casting for trophies. Catching a few fish on the first few outings will help keep a child looking forward to the next outing.”

Fishing reels, rods and other gear should be simple and in working order.

“Discouragement sets in fast when children try to use complicated equipment or equipment that doesn’t work,” Sigurdson said. “Consider giving the child their own fishing rod. This gesture is practical because short rods are easier for kids to handle.”

More information on taking kids fishing can be found on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/takeakidfishing.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: Once a lake gets winterkill, how do the fish repopulate?

Will they repopulate without DNR stocking?

A: Winterkill is a natural process that happens with some regularity in the southern part of the state due to the type of lakes in the area.

From the southern Minnesota lakes perspective, winterkill would be more appropriately termed “partial winterkill.”

The Windom fisheries office has rarely seen a complete winterkill, meaning that all fish are dead in a lake.

Often, a partial winterkill reduces a large portion of the population, but it varies greatly on the year, lake and fish community.

Black bullhead is a species of fish that has a tendency to survive most winterkill scenarios.

Many times the general public sees large numbers of dead common carp and would describe the lake as “dead.”

But ice out netting the spring after these winterkill events often reveals many species of fish are alive and well.

In spite of the reduction of some of the fish populations, those surviving fish become the brood stock for the population to rebuild.

In southern Minnesota, fish can quickly repopulate a lake following a winterkill naturally due to other connected bodies of water that haven’t experienced winterkill.

If a body of water does experience winterkill, then DNR fisheries can do an ice out netting survey to identify species that are present or absent.

If the lake is managed for yellow perch and ice out netting reveals an absence of yellow perch and the lake has limited connected sources, DNR fisheries can stock pre-spawn adult yellow perch to reintroduce that species.

Those fish then reproduce in the lake naturally.

In southern Minnesota, winter aeration is sometimes used in an effort to prevent partial winterkills but results with that strategy can vary.

CO weekly report
From the DNR

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) checked anglers having some success on crappies.
Turkey hunters were checked and turkey carcasses dumped in a ditch were investigated.
Several animal nuisance calls were handled.
A landowner trespass onto State property was investigated.

• CO Jen Mueller (Hutchinson) kept a close eye on a good crappie bite.
Mueller also spent time looking for a mute swan that was reported in Renville County.
Time was spent on educating and enforcing AIS regulations.
Boaters are reminded to remove the drain plug before traveling on public roads.
She investigated two garbage dumping/littering complaints.
Mueller spoke at an ATV safety class in Winthrop.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) finished follow up on a deer case that involved illegal party hunting.
Oberg also seized two incidental otter taken by a beaver trapper.
Time was spent working turkey hunters and shore anglers.
ATV enforcement was also worked with some registration issues being addressed.

Firearms safety talks were given at Gopher Campfire, Lester Prairie Sportsman’s Club, and Green Isle Sportsman’s Club.
Two instructors received 30 year awards at the Green Isle class.