LAKE VERMILION—Department of Natural Resources fisheries staff are emphasizing the positive findings in the latest test netting data here. The catch rate for most species was down, in some cases …
LAKE VERMILION—Department of Natural Resources fisheries staff are emphasizing the positive findings in the latest test netting data here. The catch rate for most species was down, in some cases significantly, although there’s plenty of reason for optimism over the condition of the lake’s walleye population, say DNR officials.
“The big thing to take home is that the fishery is healthy and sizes look to be above average,” said DNR Large Lake Specialist Matt Hennen, based in Tower. “There will be a lot more harvest opportunity for walleye this year.”
DNR test netting late last summer yielded 14.0 walleye per net. That’s down from the past couple years, but still near the historical average for the lake according to Hennen. The average walleye measured 14.4 inches, reflecting an exceptionally strong 2012 year class, and those fish will only be larger during the 2017 walleye season. Given the regulation change adopted earlier this year, anglers will now be able to keep walleye up to 20 inches, and one over 26 inches. That’s a more liberal allowable harvest than in the recent past.
Other test data suggests continuing strength for the walleye population ahead. According to Hennen, electrofishing results indicated a very strong 2015 year class, which should be moving into the harvestable range as early as next summer, particularly on the west end where growth rates are higher.
And 2016 also looks hopeful, said Hennen, noting that electrofishing catch rates are slightly above normal and that the average size is the largest ever recorded. The size of young of the year fish plays a major role in their survival during their first winter. “If I had to predict, I’d lean towards it being a strong year class as well,” said Hennen.
The news is less certain about other popular species, including perch and northern pike. This year’s catch rate of 13.9 perch per net was the lowest ever recorded on Lake Vermilion, and comes just three years after the DNR recorded a record high of 55 fish per net. But Hennen advises not to read too much into one year’s number.
Fish surveys are inherently variable from year-to-year, and do not necessarily indicate a trend. In addition, said Hennen, perch populations tend to naturally vary dramatically.
The northern pike population has shown less variability over the years, but this year’s test netting results, of just 0.2 fish per net was the lowest ever recorded. Typically, pike range from 0.5 to 1.7 fish per net. Hennen notes that the DNR does not conduct test netting in shallow and weedy bays, which tend to hold larger numbers of northern pike, and so may not be the most accurate reflection of the lake’s northern population. Hennen said he’ll be closely watching perch and northern numbers during the 2017 survey to see if there are signs of a valid trend towards lower numbers.
While some species showed a decline, that was not the case with smallmouth bass. The 2016 catch rate of 58.3 fish per net was above the 75th percentile for Lake Vermilion. The average size of 10.1 inches was near the historical average.