Quality sunfish initiative

The DNR wants anglers to weigh in on the second round of proposals comprising the quality sunfish initiative.

In March 2021, nearly 100 lakes received bag limit reductions. Now, the DNR is proposing another 50 lakes for reductions that would go into effect in March of 2022. Some lakes have complementary crappie regulation proposals.

For years, anglers have been telling the DNR they are satisfied with sunfish/bluegill numbers. But an increasing number of anglers are concerned about sunfish size quality.

The prevalent use of electronic fish finders and other technological advancements combined with rapid social media communication have heightened those concerns.

With the quality sunfish initiative, fisheries managers aim to increase the number of lakes with reduced bag limits from 60 to approximately 200 by 2023. Managers are using proven daily limits of five or 10 sunfish to protect and improve sunfish quality on select lakes with both biological potential to produce large sunfish and strong public support.

Input opportunities on proposed regulations

You're invited to provide input on proposed changes to fishing regulations for 2022. Comments on proposed sunfish regulation changes can be submitted multiple ways: take a survey, contact an area fisheries office directly or attend an in-person meeting scheduled in your area.

Comments will be taken through Oct. 31, 2021.

Questions & answers

Why do bag limits need to be reduced to improve or maintain size quality?

Studies show that angler harvest, especially of the large male sunfish, can have a huge impact on size quality. It takes a surprising amount of time to grow a large sunfish – you can grow three trophy bucks in the amount of time it takes to grow one 10 inch bluegill! Consequently, large fish are often removed faster than they can be replaced. Sunfish also have unique spawning behavior; large males create an incentive for other males to grow equally large and compete for good spawning sites – when large males are harvested other males have no reason to keep growing and tend to stay smaller. Because anglers usually keep the largest sunfish, reducing overall harvest can have noticeable benefits.

Do reduced bag limits work?

In most cases, yes! Lakes recently managed with 10 fish bag limits have generally maintained good size quality while average size increased in lakes managed with 5 fish limits.

Around 30 lakes have been through a formal review process including feedback from anglers – generally anglers were supportive and the bag limits were maintained or further reduced in every case. Published scientific studies from Minnesota and Wisconsin show similarly positive results from bag limit reductions. Most lakes showed improvements in average size of half of an inch or more. The gains angler’s saw in the size of the fillets taken home tended to offset the reduced total number of fish allowed.

How does that work? Take a look at the graphic, which depicts the relationship between bluegill length and weight of fillets. If an angler kept only six-inch fish, she would need 25 bluegills for one pound of fillets. If the bluegills were all eight inches, she would only need six fish for one pound of fillets.

What lakes are being considered?

Signs will be posted at public accesses of proposed lakes where special regulations are being considered. The public is invited to comment and public input meetings are planned for fall. If the proposal wins public support and is approved internally, changes should go into effect on March 1, 2022.

CountyWatersSpeciesLimitArea office
PopeAmelia LakeSunfish10Glenwood
DouglasAndrew LakeSunfish10Glenwood
CassBeuber LakeSunfish5Walker
Otter TailBig Pine LakeSunfish10Fergus Falls
DouglasBlackwell LakeSunfish10Glenwood
CassBoy Lake and connected Swift LakeSunfish; Crappie5Walker
CassCrooked Lake and connected Welsh LakeSunfish5Walker
HubbardCrow Wing Lake: 1stSunfish5Park Rapids
Otter TailCrystal LakeSunfish10Fergus Falls
HubbardGarfield LakeSunfish5Park Rapids
BeckerIsland LakeSunfish10Detroit Lakes
CassIsland Lake (near Longville)Sunfish5Walker
PopeLeven LakeSunfish10Glenwood
Otter TailLida Lakes: South and North including connecting Mud LakeSunfish10Fergus Falls
CassLower Trelipe LakeSunfish5Walker
Otter TailMiddle LakeSunfish5Fergus Falls
DouglasMill LakeSunfish10Glenwood
PopeMinnewaska LakeSunfish10Glenwood
DouglasMoon LakeSunfish5Glenwood
CassOx Yoke LakeSunfish5Walker
DouglasRed Rock LakeSunfish10Glenwood
Pope/DouglasReno LakeSunfish10Glenwood
DouglasRound LakeSunfish5Glenwood
CassSanborn LakeSunfish5Walker
BeckerSand Lake and connected Talac and Sorenson LakesSunfish5Detroit Lakes
PolkSarah LakeSunfish10Detroit Lakes
CassSugar LakeSunfish5Walker
BeckerTurtle LakeSunfish10Detroit Lakes
CassUpper Trelipe LakeSunfish5Walker
Otter TailVenstrom LakeSunfish10Fergus Falls
CassVermillion LakeSunfish5Walker
DouglasVermont LakeSunfish10Glenwood
PopeVillard LakeSunfish10Glenwood
CountyWatersSpeciesLimitArea office
St. LouisElliot LakeSunfish5Duluth
St. LouisFish Lake FlowageSunfish; Crappie5Duluth
Crow WingLake HubertSunfish; Crappie5Brainerd
ItascaLittle Turtle Lake (near Marcell)Sunfish5Grand Rapids
St. LouisMoosehead LakeSunfish; Crappie5Duluth
ItascaPokegama Lake (near Grand Rapids)Sunfish5Grand Rapids
ItascaSand Lake: Upstream to CSAH 35 bridge including Portage; Birdseye; Little Sand; Rice; and the Bowstring River downstream to the County Road 145 bridgeSunfish5Grand Rapids
St. LouisStrand LakeSunfish; Crappie5Duluth
St. LouisWhiteface ReservoirSunfish; Crappie5Duluth
St. LouisWild Rice ReservoirSunfish; Crappie5Duluth
Central & southeast
CountyWatersSpeciesLimitArea office
PineCross Lake and connected waters including the Snake River upstream to Pokegama Lake and downstream to the Cross Lake Road (Co. Rd. 9) bridge.Sunfish10Hinckley
PinePokegama Lake and connected waters including the Snake River upstream to the Little Walleye landing (east of Grasston) and downstream to Cross Lake.  Sunfish10Hinckley
Mille LacsShakopee Lake near Onamia: Highway 27 bridge to lake outlet of Lake Onamia at Highway 27Sunfish5Little Falls
CountyWatersSpeciesLimitArea office
KandiyohiGeorge LakeCrappie5Spicer
MeekerLake Minnie-BelleSunfish5Hutchinson
MeekerLake RipleySunfish5Hutchinson
Le SueurLake WashingtonSunfish10Waterville
Blue EarthMadison LakeSunfish5Waterville
RiceShields LakeSunfish5Waterville

Weigh in with your thoughts

We encourage you to watch the video presentation on this quality sunfish initiative and then comment.

Comments on proposed sunfish regulation changes can be submitted multiple ways! You can take an online survey or contact a nearby area fisheries office. A series of public meetings will be held in September and October. Check back for more details.

Our online survey is open through Oct. 31

Regulation simplification

The DNR implemented reduced daily limits for sunfish and/or crappie on nearly 100 waters as part of the quality sunfish initiative this year; however, possession limits on those lakes remained at the statewide level, which is 20 sunfish and 10 crappie. This created inconsistencies with older special regulations on 55 lakes, which reduced both the daily and possession limits on sunfish and/or crappie.

The DNR is proposing to make these similar regulations more consistent by retaining the reduced daily limits on the waters listed below but increasing the possession limit to statewide levels. This change is not expected to have any biological effects since anglers are primarily regulated by the daily limit but the change will reduce regulation complexity.

Waters affected
NortheastItascaBassSunfishGrand Rapids
NortheastItascaBattleSunfishGrand Rapids
NorthwestHubbardBig MantrapCrappiePark Rapids
NortheastAitkinBig SandySunfishAitkin
CentralStearnsCarnelianSunfishSauk Rapids
CentralMorrison & ToddCedarCrappieLittle Falls
NortheastAitkinDavis (a.k.a. Steamboat)SunfishAitkin
NortheastItascaDeerSunfishGrand Rapids
NortheastItascaDixonSunfishGrand Rapids
NortheastCookDyersSunfish and CrappieFinland
NorthwestBeckerEuniceSunfish and CrappieDetroit Lakes
CentralOtter TailFranklinCrappieSauk Rapids
NortheastCrow WingGilbertSunfish and CrappieBrainerd
NortheastCrow WingGoodrichSunfish and CrappieBrainerd
NortheastItascaGraveSunfishGrand Rapids
CentralCassHorseshoeSunfishSauk Rapids
NorthwestCassInguadonaSunfish and CrappieWalker
NorthwestClearwaterItascaSunfish and CrappieBemidji
NorthwestBeckerLittle CormorantSunfish and CrappieDetroit Lakes
NortheastItascaLittle SplithandSunfishGrand Rapids
NorthwestBeckerLittle ToadSunfishDetroit Lakes
NorthwestStearnsLittle WebbSunfish and CrappieWalker
CentralDouglasMapleCrappieSauk Rapids
NorthwestHubbardMarySunfish and CrappieBemidji
NorthwestBeckerMaudSunfish and CrappieDetroit Lakes
CentralWrightMinkSunfish and CrappieSauk Rapids
NorthwestCassMoccasinSunfish and CrappieWalker
NorthwestOtter TailNorwaySunfish and CrappieFergus Falls
NorthwestCassOx YokeSunfishWalker
NortheastItascaPickerelSunfishGrand Rapids
CentralStearnsPleasantSunfishSauk Rapids
NortheastAitkinPrairie River from confluence with Tamarack River downstream to Big Sandy LakeSunfishAitkin
NorthwestCassRiceSunfish and CrappieWalker
NortheastCrow WingRogersSunfish and CrappieBrainerd
CentralCassSanburnSunfishSauk Rapids
NortheastAitkinSandy RiverSunfishAitkin
NortheastAitkinSandy River from State Highway 210 downstream to confluence with Mississippi RiverSunfishAitkin
CentralWrightSomersSunfish and CrappieSauk Rapids
NortheastItascaSplithand including Moody's Creek upstream to County Road 432Sunfish and CrappieGrand Rapids
NorthwestOtter TailStarSunfishFergus Falls
CentralWrightSugarCrappieSauk Rapids
NortheastCassSylvanSunfish and CrappieBrainerd
NortheastAitkinWest Savanna River from County Highway 14 downstream to Prairie RiverSunfishAitkin