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Fishing opener: Surveys show that lake Bemidji is a natural walleye factory

A successful angler nets a walleye that was caught in the river channel while fishing from the dock at the Mississippi River inlet that flows into Lake Bemidji from Lake Irving. The dock is a popular, and productive, walleye catching spot early in the season. Lake Bemidji also will yield northern pike, muskies and perch. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Simply put, Lake Bemidji is a natural walleye factory that shows every sign of meeting production despite increasing demand.

In the most recent lake survey, which was taken in 2012, Lake Bemidji’s walleye numbers were statistically unchanged from the figures of the past 15 years, according to DNR Bemidji Area assistant fisheries supervisor Andy Thompson. During that same time span, however, fishing pressure has increased and, because of technology and better educated fishermen, individual success rates have improved.

“With all of the year-round fishing pressure, we wonder how Lake Bemidji can survive and maintain its walleye population,” Thompson said. “We monitor Lake Bemidji heavily and we pay special attention to the spawning stock (females 17 inches and longer). The management goal for Lake Bemidji is 2 to 3 pounds per acre of mature females and in our last survey we met that goal with a little more than 2 pounds per acre.

“Since 1988 Lake Bemidji has always had between 1.5 and 3 pounds of mature females per acre.”

Fall electrofishing also reveals the status of the young of the year and second-year walleyes and, historically, those fish also do well in Lake Bemidji.

“Our electrofishing helps us monitor the recruitment and every fall we find tons of that spring’s fish (7 inches) and an abundance of the previous year’s (11 inches),” Thompson said.

“Lake Bemidji really is a walleye factory.”

A diversity of habitat within the lake and in the rivers that flow in and out of Lake Irving and Lake Bemidji offer the perfect locations for spawning, feeding and enjoying life as a walleye.

“Bemidji has the big, open system with connected lakes and the river,” Thompson said. “The Cass Lake Chain is similar to Bemidji in terms of habitat and that chain also has a strong walleye population.

“Some years it may be the river spawners that carry the system and other years it could be the lake spawners,” he added.

In the 2012 survey the DNR officials sampled 258 walleyes ranging in size from 6.5 inches to 27 inches. The majority of the fish measured between 12 inches and 17 inches.

“The diversity of the habitat is important to the success of Lake Bemidji’s walleyes but we can’t be complacent. We must be vigilant to monitor the habitat and the water quality to protect the walleyes,” Thompson said. “Invasives could also be a monkey wrench affecting Lake Bemidji’s walleyes and we must continue to spread the message.

“If there is anything in the future that could change the positive walleye trend in the Lake Bemidji system, it is us.”

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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