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2018 FISHING OPENER: Plan for Upper Red Lake continues to pay off

UPPER RED LAKE—Among the success stories in Minnesota fish management is Red Lake and this summer anglers who fish Upper Red will, once again, reap the benefits.

"We just had a record winter harvest of 152,000 pounds and we think we should have another good harvest this summer," said Bemidji Area DNR Fisheries large lake specialist Tony Kennedy. "Our harvest year runs from December through November and (during that span) we have a target harvest range of 240,000 pounds to 336,000 pounds. A good summer harvest is about 100,000 pounds so, when you add that to our winter harvest of 152,000 pounds, we are on track to be within that harvest range."

Kennedy's optimism is based on the lake's walleye population, which is very healthy and which boasts a surplus of fish from the 2011 and 2009 year classes. The 2011 fish are about 14 to 18 inches now and represent about 35 percent of Upper Red's total walleye population. The 2009 class survivors have reached the 18- to 19-inch mark and have been providing action for the anglers for many years.

"We are not anywhere near record abundance in terms of walleye numbers on Upper Red but there is a surplus of spawning stock," Kennedy said. "When there is that surplus we don't have as many new fish coming into the population. And, when we are in surplus, we want anglers to be able to catch them and keep some."

In an effort to do just that, DNR officials last summer implemented a 4-fish limit with one walleye in possession over 17 inches. The regulation also was in effect this winter and will be continued this summer.

"People go to Upper Red to catch numbers of walleyes and the objective of our walleye management on the lake is to have anglers catch lots of walleyes and to provide opportunities to harvest some of them," Kennedy said. "In 2015, we revised our harvest plan for Upper Red and that revision gave us more flexibility in our management. It also gave us the ability to allow more harvest (when it is an option)."

At its peak, Upper Red had seven spawning walleyes per acre. DNR officials are hoping to reduce that figure to 2.5 per acre but they have a way to go in achieving that goal. Currently, there are 6 spawning walleyes per acre on Upper Red.

A late spring should help that effort.

"I'm optimistic about the summer's fishing on Upper Red," Kennedy said. "The eastern end of Upper Red is known for its concentration of walleyes in the spring and I'm optimistic that it will provide good fishing this year. The closer the ice-out is to opener the better the walleye fishing along the shoreline breaks usually is. This year looks to be a late ice-out so I suspect that it should be a good spring for fishermen this year.

"Upper Red has a reputation of having a large number of eating-size walleyes but very few larger ones," Kennedy continued. "If you are looking for a walleye for the wall, Upper Red is not your place. But, if you are looking for a bend in the rod, especially with a late spring, Upper Red is the place to go."

Upper Red also is a destination for anglers looking for a trophy northern pike.

"We did a spring trap net assessment last spring to look at the size structure of the northern pike and we saw very impressive numbers of fish over 36 inches," Kennedy said. "About 30 percent of the female pike we surveyed were over 36 inches and you won't find that percentage in very many places."

The overall pike population on Upper Red is low but those that swim in the lake have the opportunity to thrive.

"The trophy potential for the pike is real," Kennedy said. "And the pike don't see much pressure from anglers because most of Upper Red's fishermen are targeting walleyes."

For more information on Upper Red's pike or walleye management scheme, contact the Bemidji Area DNR Fisheries office at (218) 308-2339.