Anglers will be able to keep fewer walleye and sauger beginning Friday, March 1, on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
"The new regulations will help ensure the long-term sustainability of the resource while maintaining fishing opportunities," said Phil Talmage, DNR Baudette area fisheries supervisor. "We received a ton of public comment from anglers all over the state and there was very strong support for the proposed changes."
The winter regulations on Lake of the Woods will match the current summer regulations, reducing the aggregate walleye and sauger limit from eight to six, with no more than four walleye. The protected slot limit remains in effect that requires anglers to immediately release any walleye between 19.5 and 28 inches, with only one fish over 28 inches allowed in possession.
On the lake, the changes are a response to expanding winter fishing pressure that pushed sauger harvest above management objectives – the annual target harvest is 250,000 pounds but current harvest is 400,000 pounds. Winter angling accounted for 80 percent of the annual sauger harvest.
"The walleye and sauger fishery on the lake remains strong right now, but we’re looking to the future and adapting regulations based on what we’re seeing through our fish monitoring program and angler surveys," Talmage said.
Rainy River regulations
On the Rainy River and Fourmile Bay, a catch-and-release season will be in effect March 1 to April 14. The current Rainy River spring season regulation allows anglers to keep two walleye or sauger, and requires the immediate release of walleye 19.5 inches in length or larger.
The changes on the river are a response to increasing fishing pressure and longer periods of open water that has led to higher harvest of walleye, particularly male walleye in the spring.
Despite higher harvest, 95 percent of anglers who participated in the spring fishery do so for the opportunity to catch big walleyes, catch a lot of walleye and just get the boat in the water, according to DNR angler surveys. Less than two percent of anglers indicated that the primary reason for participating was to keep walleye.
The DNR has also recently updated the fisheries management plan for Lake of the Woods. That plan, developed through a public input process, will guide fisheries management on Lake of the Woods through 2023.
"We sincerely appreciate the contributions of time and effort made by the citizen participants on the Lake of the Woods Fisheries Input Group. Their input was critical in developing new harvest regulations and updating the management plan," Talmage said.
More information about Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River, the new management plan, and a document detailing public comments and DNR responses to frequently asked questions can be found at mndnr.gov/lakeofthewoods.