Annual Lake of the Woods Fisheries Assessment
The latest Lake of the Woods Fisheries Assessment has been released by the MN DNR and the fishery is looking strong for walleyes and saugers.
Lake of the Woods is one of nine Minnesota lakes categorized as Large Walleye Lakes (>25,000 acres) by the Minnesota DNR, and is sampled annually in accordance with the Large Lake Sampling Guide. The guide provides a standard sampling and reporting format to allow trends to be identified, and between-lake comparisons to be made.
Water quality, biological communities, and the recreational fishery (through creel surveys) are among the components sampled regularly on these large lakes. An annual report on most of these sampling activities is compiled by a large-lake specialist assigned to the particular lake. Creel surveys are reported separately during years they are conducted.
For Lake of the Woods, the annual Large Lake Sampling Report typically catalogs results for the following biological sampling activities, in the sequence when they were collected:
–Spring spawning assessment of Walleye in the Rainy River using Electrofishing gear. This assessment is typically conducted in late April.
–Zooplankton assessment. Zooplankton are sampled throughout the open water season in the open basin of Lake of the Woods.
–Young-of-Year Percid assessment. Beach seines and bottom trawls are used to target young Walleye, Sauger, and Yellow Perch.
–Fall Gill Net assessment. During this assessment, sixteen sites on the Minnesota waters of Lake of the Woods are sampled in September using gill nets. The fall gill net assessment monitors several of the metrics that are useful in describing the status of a Walleye population. The assessment is also a helpful tool for monitoring other species of fish, such as Sauger, Yellow Perch, Cisco, and Northern Pike.
The results from this past year’s Lake of the Woods fisheries assessment are in and the lake continues to be doing well for fish populations. Fishing pressure remains strongest during the ice fishing season vs the open water season.
Walleye catches in the 2018 gill net sample averaged 15.1 per net,which is also just below the 2002 to 2018 average of 16.9. Walleye are less abundant than they were last year (Figure 1).
The 2011, 2013 and 2014 year classes were strong, while 2015-2017 year classes are, or are predicted to be, of average strength (Figure 2). In 2018, above average catch rates and good growth of young of the year Walleye are a likely indication of a strong year class. Strong production and recruitment combined with only two weak year classes (2008 and 2012) in the past 10 years results in a healthy and abundant Walleye population.
Since 2002, highest Sauger abundance measured in the fall gill net assessment was in 2008, when we caught 30.8 Sauger per lift (Figure 4). High abundance was driven by young Sauger from strong year classes produced from 2005 through 2007 (Figure 5). In recent years, strong year classes were produced in 2011and 2015 (in addition 2014 and 2016 were near the strong threshold). Recent year classes produced are predicted to be of average (2017) to weak (2018).
Creel Survey Highlights
• Summer 2018: Fishing pressure was an estimated 645,000 angler-hours and is approximately 100,000 angler-hours below the 2012-2018 average. Walleye (220,000 pounds) and Sauger (67,000 pounds) harvest were below the 2012-2018 average. Since 2012, average summer harvest for Walleye is 277,000 pounds and 81,000 pounds for Sauger.
• Winter 2017-2018: Fishing pressure and Walleye/Sauger harvest was near the 2012-2018 average. Over the winter 1.94 million angler-hours were estimated, approximately 100,000 angler-hours above average. The 2012-2018 average winter Walleye harvest is 243,000 pounds and 314,000 pounds for Sauger. Last winter Walleye harvest was 257,000 pounds, while the Sauger harvest was 279,000 pounds.
Here is the MN DNR Fisheries report from this past fall of 2018 gill netting assessment. https://files.dnr.state.mn.us/areas/fisheries/baudette/lake_of_the_woods_quick_report.pdf