The guides had warned us. But we didn’t listen.
A group of about eight northern Minnesotans who mostly had moved away from our home state, we were admittedly out of the walleye-fishing loop when we showed up in Walker, Minn., for an afternoon of guided fishing on Leech Lake in the summer of 2006.
The guides tried to prepare us for what we might — and most likely wouldn’t — catch on this typically great walleye fishery. Still, even after that, talk of a massive walleye fish fry later that evening was only somewhat subdued. There’s no way such a great walleye lake could go so bad so fast, right?
Wrong. Several hours later, we docked back in Walker, a handful of perch to show for our efforts.
For those of us who long ago had moved to far-away places in particular, the day was an education — about how a perfect storm of factors had indeed all but wiped out the once prolific walleye population at Leech, and how the Minnesota DNR was working hard to bring the fish back to its former prominence at the lake.
Fortunately, I moved back to Minnesota that fall and was able to see the walleyes make an amazing and fairly swift comeback at Leech: Just two years later, fishing the lake for the first time since the aforementioned debacle, I enjoyed one of the best walleye-fishing days of my life on any lake. Three of us caught our limits in a matter of a couple hours, and I released a number of walleyes in the 22- to 25-inch range. I knew the walleyes were on their way back, but I couldn’t have imagined that the turnaround would be so quick and profound.
Unfortunately, I haven’t fished the lake since then, at least not during the open-water season. But, equally as amazing as their return, the lake has only gotten better and better for walleyes since then. And, with a new five-year management plan currently in the works, it’s very possible walleye fishing will continue in that direction for some time to come.
The plan is expected to be completed in December. For now, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is seeking input on the plan, which outlines the proposed five-year fish population objectives and fisheries management actions, the DNR said. It also incorporates the recommendations of the 16-member Leech Lake Fisheries Input Group, which has held six meetings since February, the DNR added. Public comment on the plan started Tuesday.
Also included within this survey are questions regarding the management of other species — yellow perch and northern pike in particular. But it’s heavily weighted toward walleyes. Those taking the survey are asked, among other things, their level of satisfaction with the proposed walleye goal and the current walleye slot and limit. The DNR is proposing a plan to “support a self-sustaining walleye population that balances harvest opportunity with the opportunity to catch quality-sized fish while meeting reproductive needs.”
That’s fairly meaningless, generic stuff — unlike the current walleye slot and limit: a 20- to 26-inch protected slot, with a possession limit of four, including one over 26 inches. With what’s been going on at other Minnesota lakes in recent years, including just down the road at Lake Mille Lacs, those are some fairly healthy numbers, and they probably won’t get any narrower for 2016-2020.
Public comments will be accepted online through Oct. 9. Paper questionnaires also are available at the DNR’s Walker area fisheries office, 07316 State 371 NW, Walker, MN. Comments will be reviewed and considered in October and November. For more information on the Leech Lake draft management plan and the public input process, contact the DNR’s Walker area fisheries office at (218) 547-1683.
I’ve never known how much weight public input carries with the DNR regarding such issues, and I don’t know how much input they ever get. But at the very least, such surveys allow us to get a feel for the direction the DNR is leaning. No radical potential changes are evident with the line of “questioning” in this survey. Nor is there a need for anything remotely radical. For the last decade or so, the DNR’s recovery and management plan has been working at Leech.
It’s been the perfect storm. But this time, in a good way.