MNR anticipates good year for walleye fishing

Dan Falloon

The Ministry of Natural Resources is expecting another good year of walleye fishing in 2010.
“Walleye catch rates should remain high and similar to last year,” noted Darryl McLeod, an area biologist with the MNR here.
“Anglers can expect to see exceptional numbers of large fish protected by slot size limits on Rainy Lake, and maximum size limits on other inland lakes,” he said.
Walleye season opened this past Saturday (May 15), but there were different factors affecting this year’s opening as opposed to 2009.
The earliest ice-out on record for Rainy Lake (April 10, breaking the previous record of April 13, set in 1998) has helped the cause with warmer water temperatures.
But low water levels may mean walleye location is affected.
“Water levels are also a little lower than normal and are currently at the bottom of the rule curve for both Rainy Lake and [the] Namakan reservoir,” noted McLeod.
“This may have some effect on fish location, but will have little effect on overall fishing success,” he added.
McLeod said walleye might be difficult to catch for the next few days but should improve shortly.
“Anglers may still find northern pike much more aggressive than walleye during the first week of the season,” he noted.
“Walleye fishing would normally improve later in May and early June as spring progresses.
“As water temperatures continue to warm, post-spawn walleye feeding activity increases and fish resume their normal behaviour patterns.”
The cost for fishing licences has increased slightly. A one-year sportfishing licence and Outdoors Card now costs $33.75—up 50 cents from 2009.
A one-year conservation licence and Outdoors Card is up a quarter to $23.25 while a one-day pass for residents also is up 25 cents to $11.25.
Walleye caught and possessed on Rainy Lake must be between 35 and 45 cm in length, or greater than 70 cm.
Anglers only may catch one greater than 70 cm.
On other lakes in the Fort Frances region, anglers may catch and possess one walleye larger than 46 cm.
The daily catch-and-possession limit for the district has not changed as residents with a sport licence are allowed four walleye per day while conservation licence-holders are allowed two.
As well, some areas of Rainy Lake are designated as fish sanctuaries until June 14 while other areas are fish sanctuaries year-round.
Anglers are encouraged to read the 2010 Recreational Fishing Regulations Summary before heading out to fish (it is available at all licence issuers and at the local MNR office).
Boom years and bust years in the past still affect populations in later years, and some strong years about a decade ago have produced some large fish—many above the legal size.
“Walleye populations are healthy and continue to improve on Rainy Lake due to a number of strong year classes produced in the late 1990s, along with the fisheries management actions taken to encourage walleye recovery since 1994 [reduced catch limits, size limits, sanctuaries, etc],” explained McLeod.
“The 2001 year class was ‘exceptional’ (highest recorded) and will continue to show in the angler catch,” he added.
“Walleye from this very strong year class (now nine years old) will exceed 51 cm and will be well above the legal harvest slot size for Rainy Lake,” McLeod noted.
However, some poor years later on still are making their presence felt, as well, especially in terms of walleye in the lower size limit.
“Fish available for harvest in the 35-45 cm range will continue to be caught in below average numbers due to poorer year classes produced in 2004 and 2005,” said McLeod.
“Walleye that are four-six years of age typically comprise the majority of the angler harvest on Rainy Lake,” he noted.
“Year classes produced in 2008 and 2007 [age two and three] look promising.”
The walleye population elsewhere in the region also should be improved, said McLeod.
“On other lakes, anglers should see improved numbers of walleye, with even more fish exceeding the maximum size limit,” he remarked.
“The 2001 and 2003 year classes should produce good numbers of larger fish on most inland lakes, as well.”
McLeod pointed out other species in the region are seeing a rebound, as well.
“Angling for other species, especially northern pike and especially black crappie, continues to improve on Rainy Lake and elsewhere,” he reported.
Local guide John “Gator” Gushulak, who has been an expert on Rainy Lake for more than 40 years, said reaction to opening weekend was mixed as some hopes may have been a little high going in.
“It wasn’t bad, it was shallow,” reported Gushulak. “I don’t think it was as good as they expected it to be.
“Some people got lucky and did well, and some didn’t,” he reasoned.
However, the recent warm weather should help to boost conditions. And with the high temperatures expected to continue, the water only will get warmer.
“The water’s started to warm up with the weather we’ve been having the last couple, three, four days,” noted Gushulak.
“It’s going to make a big difference here in a week.”
Gushulak said the positive effects of the early ice-out were diminished by some chilly weather afterwards, but things have recovered and conditions are right where they should be.
“They [walleye] had an early spawn and then it got cold there for two weeks, and then it went back to normal again,” he explained.
“The lake is where it’s supposed to be and the fishing is about the same as what it should be.”
His ultimate predication is that 2010 will be on par with most other years.
“As long as we get some good weather here, and get a few rains, get some rains at night, it’ll be a good year,” he noted.
“It should just be normal like every other year. The fishing should be good.”