UPPER RED LAKE, Minn. — There is an abundance of walleyes from the 2011 year class in Upper Red Lake. The number is so high, in fact, that the future of the fishery would improve if some of them are removed.
“The walleyes from the 2011 class are now 18 to 20 inches and it is time to replace them with younger fish,” said Tony Kennedy, Bemidji area large lake specialist for the Department of Natural Resources. “People go to Red Lake because of the high catch rates and in order to have high catch rates, you need younger fish. Harvesting fish between 17 and 20 inches is intended to reduce the surplus spawning stock, which has likely been suppressing recruitment of new young fish into the population.”
For the past two summers anglers have been allowed to keep four walleyes but only one fish could be over 17 inches. That regulation did not do enough to reduce the excess spawning stock, so to take advantage of the current surplus of larger fish, the regulation has been adjusted. So this year, with the Minnesota Fishing Opener set for Saturday, anglers will be allowed to keep three walleyes under 20 inches and one fish over 20 inches.
“Red Lake has been in surplus condition with the spawning stock for years and this new regulation will help us reduce the spawning stock to optimal levels,” Kennedy said. “This past December, we heard grumbling from people who were having trouble catching walleyes under 17 inches. Walleyes on Red Lake tend to grow to a certain size and then quit and right now there are lots of (17 to 20 inch) walleyes to harvest. We want Red Lake to be a sustainable harvest fishery and this (regulation adjustment) will help that.”
The walleye harvest year on Upper Red Lake begins in December and ends in November.
During that time frame this year, the state’s harvest target range is 240,000 pounds to 336,000 pounds. The midpoint is 288,000 pounds and, after a winter harvest of 139,000 pounds, at least another 149,000 pounds are available.
During the 2018 harvest year, anglers took 234,000 pounds of walleyes. That was a record high for a harvest year since Upper Red Lake was reopened to angling in 2006, but it was still short of the target harvest figure and did not help DNR officials reduce the spawning stock to the desired optimal condition of 2.5 to 4.5 pounds per acre.
“We haven’t reached the harvest target during the last three years,” Kennedy said. “Right now, Upper Red Lake offers the opportunity (to harvest more pounds of walleyes) because we are in surplus. We hope (the surplus) doesn’t persist but now we are in a great situation. We are managing a lake with too many fish as opposed to a lake with too few fish.”
Once the spawning stock numbers are sufficiently reduced, anglers can expect the new regulation to be modified again.
“We do expect that the 1-over-20 inch regulation will be temporary,” Kennedy said. “The goal is to reduce the spawning stock. Our target (harvest) is 5 to 7 pounds per acre by angling when we are in surplus and reduce that to 2.5 to 4.5 pounds per acre when we are at optimal (condition). When our target lowers, we will change the regulation.”
If the weather cooperates, anglers should enjoy great fishing on Upper Red this summer.
“Upper Red is unique,” Kennedy said. “Nobody fishes after dark because they don’t have to. You probably could catch walleyes at night but why would you when you can catch numbers of walleyes during the middle of the day. Up through mid-June is a very good time to fish Upper Red and, as long as there is cool water, Upper Red has hot fishing.”
Upper Red Lake also offers quality northern pike fishing and this summer a special regulation features a 26 to 44-inch protected slot with one fish over 44 inches allowed in possession.
Officials, however, are taking another look at that regulation.
“There are many trophy pike in Upper Red and they aren’t targeted that much,” Kennedy said. “Currently, we have the 26 to 40-inch protected slot but we are proposing to modify it to 30 to 40-inch slot. That would be the same regulation that is on Lake of the Woods and that has worked there. We think the 30 to 40-inch slot could also work on Upper Red and this year we will obtain public comment on that proposal.”
Fishermen also may catch a crappie or two while walleye fishing and most of the fish will be between 10 and 14 inches. Those fish indicate that there is some crappie recruitment in Upper Red but anglers shouldn’t expect a return to the “crappie boom” of the 1990s.
Walleye anglers also will land a few perch, and 63 percent of the fish sampled during last year’s DNR survey were greater than 9 inches.
For more information on Upper Red Lake, contact the Bemidji Area DNR Fisheries office at 218-308-2339.