Fishing opener and beyond

Two anglers enjoy the fishing opener in May at Orwell Dam. Fishing licenses have seen an increase this spring with the stay-at-home order put in place.

The spring fishing season has been a good one for fishing license sales in Minnesota.

“Back in April we were up 40% from our 2019 sales,” Fergus Falls fisheries manager Jim Wolters said Friday.

Were there more fish in Minnesota lakes? Had catching them suddenly become a snap?

Give the credit to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a former high school teacher from Mankato.

An executive order by Walz to stay at home suddenly meant working from home for parents and children alike. Schools closed down. Sporting activities were banned.

In drawing the battle lines for all Minnesotans in the fight against the coronavirus, Walz told the state’s 5.6 million citizens they could still indulge their love of fishing. 

People must have thought Walz showed a lot of wisdom that day because they stormed license dealers. Fishing became more than a hobby, it became a reason to get outdoors after a long winter.

“Things shut down and yet there was the encouragement to get out,” Wolters said.

One of the biggest jumps in license sales came from 17- and 18-year-olds.

As spring has rolled slowly along fishing has been one of the more visible outdoor activities. The ice had hardly gone out on some lakes when the spinning reels started to sing. Wolters has been particularly encouraged by the number of families he has seen out fishing. South Ten Mile Lake has been one of those family fishing spots.

The latest figures show that the DNR fishing license sales increase has slacked off to about a 27 percent increase in recent days. 


“Restaurants and other businesses are opening up again,” Wolters speculated.

In addition to fishing, the executive order Walz issued back in March has bolstered state park attendance. Park facilities are not open but the opportunity to get outside has been a compelling one for winter-weary Minnesotans.


Special regulation sunfish limits could be coming 

The DNR has been hearing from anglers for some time that something about the sunfish population is really coming up short.

Sunfish limits on most Minnesota lakes have been 20 a day for years. While sunfish numbers are not in jeopardy, the average size of the aggressive gamefish has been dropping.

Wolters believes the reason is a combination of different factors. First, technology has put a lot of pressure on sunfish. Underwater cameras and fish locators are putting anglers on sunfish schools faster. Second, some sunfish habitat has been lost. Finally, more big sunnies are being harvested. The fact that sunfish only grow an inch a year is also seen as a factor.

The DNR’s answer is the quality bluegill initiative. 

Bluegills generally grow to be the largest member of the freshwater sunfish family.

Through the initiative, the fisheries managers are giving serious thought to increasing the number of special regulation lakes for sunnies. The special regulation limit in Otter Tail County would be five. Star Lake’s sunfish limit is already set at 10 and studies are showing the smaller daily limit is working. 

To build a pound of sunfish filets, DNR studies have also shown that six, eight-inch sunfish are the equivalent of 15 7-inchers and 25 6-inchers.

There are 13 lakes in Otter Tail County being considered for a special regulation limit - Bass, Deer, East Lost, Fish, Franklin, Long, Prairie, Red River, Stuart, Wall, West Lost, West Silent and two Fish lakes. 

The DNR is planning to post signs on the public accesses of the proposed lakes. A comment period and public meetings will be held. The proposal will go through if it gains both public backing and DNR approval. Those changes would go into effect March 1, 2021.

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