A popular walleye lake in Minnesota could see a surge in northern pike populations if the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) finalizes a proposed pilot fishing regulation aimed at reversing the decades-old decline in northern pike size.
DNR’s acting Brainerd District Fisheries Superintendent Derek Bahr said most of the North Gull Lake population is caught by chance by fishermen who fish for walleye and other species of fish. But some guides, lakeshore residents, avid fishing enthusiasts, and members of the Northern Pike Fishing Club have expressed general support for a protected cap that would boost “crocodile” or “jackfish” growth beyond 40 inches.
The agency is seeking public comment on the proposal, including hosting an open house Thursday at its regional convention center in Brainerd. If the regulation is implemented as proposed, fishermen in the entire Gull Lake chain will not be allowed to fish northern fish between 30 and 40 inches in length. Additionally, the maximum northern pike bag in Norse and its seven connected lakes would be two fish, with only one being over 40 inches in length.
“A large number of Gull Lake pike will be protected under the new opening,” the DNR wrote as part of its justification for the proposal.
Another aspect of the proposed change is the discontinuance of a special regulation initiated in 2003 on Round Lake that implemented a 30-inch minimum for northern pike catches. The biggest reason to change Round Lake will be the consistency of the rules throughout the series.
“We still see a decrease in fish of more than 30 inches,” Bahar said. “We’re trying to move the needle back in the other direction.”
He said Gull has the right stuff to serve as a northern pike lake without affecting the walleye fishery. That’s because the gull has a low overall density of northerners, a strong growth rate of fish and an abundant supply of prey.
“We all love our big pike, so I don’t think this is going to do anything but help us,” said Geoff Wall, president of the Brainerd chapter of Northern Inc., an international fishing club.
DNR indicated a trend of declining catch volumes at the Club’s International Pike Championship, which has been held annually on Gull for the past 48 years. The 49th annual tournament is scheduled to take place from September 23-24.
At one time, the 15-pound Northerners were in the bottom of the top 25 game caught in the tournament, according to DNR. Eventually, the 12- to 13-pound pike started to lead in the final tournament standings.
Furthermore, the DNR crew sampled northern pike using nets in 2001 and again in 2013. Comparing the results, 22% of the fish caught in 2001 exceeded 30 inches in length, up from 11% in 2013. Similarly, according to the DNR, 5% of northern nets in 2001 were longer than 36 inches, compared to 1% in 2013.
Wall confirmed the trend, but said tournament results had started to improve over the past two years. Seven or eight years ago, he said, 170 contestants who could fish for two days could catch a total of less than 25 pikes over 33 inches in length.
“There is no doubt that I think this will help,” Wall said.
But not everyone is expected to support the proposed regulation, which will be open for public comment until October 20. Both Wall and Bahr said the opposition might come from dark war enthusiasts.
DNR is also considering at least seven other special regulations, including proposed changes to northern pike fishing on Pearl Lake in Stearns County; crappie and sunfish in Clearwater Lake and Maple Lake in Wright County; sunfish in Lake Winnipeg. northern pike at Three Lakes in Itasca Province; and walleye in Big Sand Lake in Hubbard County.