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  • 'we have more fun' FishingMN Creators

Excited to catch a big northern pike at the cabin near Brainerd, an angler casts a lure all week, yet, day after day, only has success in reeling in skinny, snake-like pike.

In the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a large pike strikes bait not far from the rocky shore of an island. With the fish landed, the angler debates whether to keep it for dinner.

On a lake bordered by farm fields, a teenager hooked on fishing has constant action from largemouth bass and panfish but long-ago gave up on casting fruitlessly for pike that are few and far between.

These scenarios illustrate pike problems in different parts of Minnesota. In hopes of improving northern pike fishing, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wants to expand the dialogue with anglers and darkhouse spearers about the problems.

One concept the DNR will discuss entails creating three pike fishing zones that could solve unique challenges with pike in northeastern, north-central and southern Minnesota.

“There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to effective pike regulations,” said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries section chief. “However, a zone concept, if enacted, could protect large pike in the northeast, increase pike populations in the south and eventually solve the problem of an over-abundance of small pike in north-central Minnesota.”

In hopes of engaging anglers and spearers about the zone concept, the DNR has developed a Web page at www.mndnr.gov/pike that includes a video outlining the concept, frequently asked questions, a comment form and a space where people can sign up to receive information via email.

During the coming summer months, the pike page will expand to include presentations on the idea and include times and places of meetings where people can hear more, ask questions and offer informal comments.

Accommodating people who spear fish from a darkhouse is an important consideration, Pereira said. DNR has started dialog with leaders of the Minnesota Darkhouse & Angling Association to determine what regulations may work to conserve and improve their sport as well. 

“The DNR manages pike fisheries in more than 3,000 lakes,” Pereria said. “With good dialogue and support from anglers, spearers and all of our stakeholders, we should be able to improve pike fishing for those who are harvest-oriented as well as those keen about pursuing trophy northern pike.”

So what is the pike problem in Minnesota? There isn’t just one problem – or one solution – because pike populations differ in various regions of the state.

“Our primary objective is to manage pike as a fish for harvest. We’re asking anglers and spearers to consider a change in direction from the regulations we now have in hopes of making pike populations healthier and improving fishing in the future,” Pereira said.

In the northeast, pike are present in relatively low numbers. They reproduce naturally. Although they grow slowly, they can grow quite large because relatively few anglers scatter limited fishing pressure across a large number of lakes.

In this area, overharvest of large fish would be detrimental to pike populations.

“In the northeast, there are large fish in the population,” Pereira said. “A zone concept could aim to protect these fish while continuing to allow opportunity to harvest smaller pike. A change such as this would not increase the pike population.”

In the southern area of the state, pike are less abundant and don’t reproduce as well as in the north. Southern Minnesota has high fishing pressure and a high harvest rate relative to the number of pike; however, these fish grow fast.

“In southern Minnesota, we could increase pike numbers and harvest opportunities through supplemental stocking, a minimum size limit and a two-fish bag limit,” Pereira said. “Anglers in such a scenario would harvest fewer fish but they would be larger, and the total pounds of pike harvested would remain about the same. Anglers would be catching larger fish within a year or two.”

The north-central area is plagued by too many small pike, also known as the hammer-handle problem. There is moderate to high fishing pressure and high harvest of large and medium size pike. Pike grow slowly here. An over-abundance of small pike is the result.

The overpopulated small pike eat large numbers of perch, which may have a negative effect on panfish populations. Overabundant pike also eat stocked walleyes, reducing the effectiveness of walleye stocking. And small pike eat proportionately more than big pike – for example, 10 one-pound pike eat significantly more than one 10-pound pike.

“North-central Minnesota has the hammer-handle pike problem to the detriment of not only pike but also stocked walleye, perch and panfish,” Pereira said. “With any new regulations, we would hope to see a gradual but moderate increase in the average size of pike.”

More information
A zone concept, depending on what shape it takes, would be unlikely to create more trophy pike, as there are already special regulations that achieve that goal on individual lakes. The zone concept would leave existing special and experimental regulations in place.

“We want to improve northern pike fishing in the entire state, but pike populations are vastly different in different areas of the state. DNR technical experts are working to determine which regulations may work best and will be talking with anglers and stakeholders this summer and fall,” Pereira said.

Check www.mndnr.gov/pike for updated information about the proposal, including frequently asked questions, maps with zone locations and pike densities and information on how to comment.

What do you think?

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If/when this finally goes through, I can't wait to be able to bring more of those hammer handles home to eat. Not to mention to eventually see the size shift to the larger more fun to catch fish.

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The problem is that very few people share your desire to clean and eat 20 inch pike.

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I do understand that del. I believe it was merk, of all people, who posted a pic of a filet off an 18"??? Northern that still had a big slab of meat. Easy peasy to clean. 

I also think it will make a difference though with the amount of people that do eat pike.

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I'm all for addressing real problems. I'm not sure I see pike populations/size as a real problem. It becomes a question of cost/benefit. All we need is another sinkhole for the DNR to sink millions of tax dollars trying to fix something that 1) can't be fixed, 2) isn't worth fixing for the cost, or 3) isn't broken in the first place.

The thing is, there are already several lakes that have had special pike regs for several years, and it doesn't seem to have any great effect. That makes me skeptical when the DNR starts talking about new regs and restrictions.

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  • 'we have more fun' FishingMN Builders

There are lakes around me that are full of little pike, but also some lakes that have good numbers of good sized pike. I do not think a flat zone management will help some of the lakes that have good number of good sized pike. Also I know some guides in North East Minnesota who are worried that they will lose some business, because they will not be able to keep one trophy pike. I look at Upper Red Lake, Basswood, and Lake of the Woods where people go for the chance at trophy pike. There are also some lakes near my families cabin in Grand Marais that have lots of little pike and very few good sized ones. These lakes could use some extra harvest to reduce the numbers of little pike. Most of these pike are released, but if someone catches a trophy they should be allowed to put it on the wall if they choose. I am a firm believer in Selective Harvest and that we can educate people on what kind of fish to harvest. I am still looking for a true 20 pound plus pike I have caught lots of pike from 13-18 pounds, but not one hitting 20 pounds. I know big pike are important in keeping panfish populations in check and seeing I love big Bluegills and Crappies. This means helping educate people about releasing medium to large sized pike is important. 

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I do understand that del. I believe it was merk, of all people, who posted a pic of a filet off an 18"??? Northern that still had a big slab of meat. Easy peasy to clean. 

I also think it will make a difference though with the amount of people that do eat pike.

​I've cleaned a fair number of small pike, and I wouldn't call a fillet from an 18 inch northern "a big slab of meat".  And then taking out the y bones makes the pieces even smaller.   But if people will keep the little northerns from the lakes that have a surplus, good for them. 

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I guess what I meant about big slab was campared to a crappie or sunny. You are correct in the sense that it isn't a salmon fillet size wise. Didn't mean to make that type of comparison.

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I was more comparing them to a bass or walleye.  Compared to a gill is a different point of reference for sure.  

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Very true on that note. If we catch a few handles tomorrow, I will take a couple pics of the filets after I clean them (pronounced BUTCHER) I stink at making butcher case filets.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I wonder if the CPR craze has anything to do with this problem, not saying that CPR is bad, but folks have been & continue to get  roasted online for keeping fish. Then there's the issue of the cleaning of pike. My 20 year old son has no problem helping fill the stringer, but when we get home it's time for the electronics, or a hook up with a buddy. He doesn't like to clean fish and I can't see him trying to tackle a pike. I can't really blame him though, as I don't like the chore either.  When I was a kid my ol man would only keep & clean northers if he was desperate for a fish fry and the walleye were scarce. Seems like people are eating less fish, and the passing down of the traditions and teachings are dwindling. We are way too busy now, so even if more pike can be kept it doesn't mean that it will happen. I agree with monstermoose78 and good post.

There were some good comments about the financial aspect posted and I have to agree that the cost/reward debate needs to be seriously looked into before the money is spent.Where did the DNR find this problem anyway?  

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Moose, as far as red lake and lake of the woods, aren't they west of highway 53? Not sure on the others you mentioned, but if they they are also, then the opportunity to keep a wall hanger is still there. Even for the lakes in the northeast zone, what is stopping anyone from getting a replica? It is quick and easy for the photo and measurements. Those fisheries will only get better (hopefully). As for the cost, what would the additional costs be? I would think making and remaking signs for the constant changing special reg lakes would be much more of a financial drain on the department. Could easily be wrong. 

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