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Michigan DNR Walleye Management Plan for Inland Waters

By: Mark Romanack


Catch and Immediate Release is a viable management plan for walleye, unfortunately a survey conducted by the MI DNR suggests that walleye anglers in Michigan have little interest in Catch and Release as it pertains to walleye.


At first blush, I’m very encouraged to see that the Michigan DNR recognizes a need to better manage our inland waters walleye fisheries across the state. Little or no attention has been provided with a goal of aggressively managing these frequently fragile fisheries.

After reading the Management Plan, I couldn’t help but speak out as a lifetime walleye angler and also resident of Michigan.

Most of these fisheries are managed with a “blanket coverage” five fish daily limit and a 15 inch minimum size limit. It’s hard for me to imagine how such blanket regulations can serve so many diverse fisheries in a meaningful way.

In the Upper Peninsula walleye fisheries close on March 15 and re-open on the 15th of May. In the Lower Peninsula walleye fishing runs from the last Saturday in April to March 15 except in Great Lakes and Great Lakes Connecting Waterways where walleye season remains open year around.


EXCEPTIONS TO THESE REGULATIONS

Walleye regulations do have a few exceptions in the state of Michigan. On Saginaw Bay and the Saginaw River the daily limit is eight fish daily with a 13 inch size limit.

On the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair River and the Michigan waters of Lake Erie, the daily limit is six walleye per day with a 15 inch minimum size limit.

In Little Bay de Noc (Delta County), no more than one walleye over 23" may be possessed in daily limit north of a line drawn from Peninsula Point Lighthouse to the mouth of the Bark River.

In the Michigan Great Lakes waters of Green Bay, from the mouth of the Menominee River northward to latitude/longitude (45.5505, 87.2637) located approximately 6 miles north of the Cedar River from March 2 - Fri. before 1st Sat. in May the daily possession limit is one walleye and from the 1st Sat. in May - March 1 the daily possession limit is five walleye.

On the Cheboygan River from the south end of the outermost breakwall at Mullet Lake downstream to Cheboygan Dam, and Black River. from Alverno Dam downstream to its confluence with the Cheboygan River, the possession season for walleye shall be May 15 - March 15.

On the Ontonagon River. (Ontonagon County), no more than one walleye over 23" may be possessed in daily possession limit.

On Portage and Torch Lake systems (Houghton County), no more than one walleye over 23" may be possessed in daily possession limit.


The author believes that MI has the unique opportunity to set aside some select fisheries to study Catch and Release management as it pertains to trophy fish production. Other states such as Wisconsin are having considerable success managing for trophy walleye in places like Sturgeon Bay and Green Bay.


HIGH POINTS

While the Management Plan for Walleye in Michigan’s Inland Waters is a complex and lengthy document, the good news is that this document classifies walleye waters by region, size, depth, water temperature and rates those lakes for their ability to sustain viable walleye populations. This important bit of information makes it possible to identify waters that are the best candidates for stocking efforts and which lakes essentially become “put and take” waters.

Because stocking is the most expensive of the management efforts, it’s important to determine which waters are best suited to stocking of walleye, not just to establish fisheries, but in the interest of creating long term management success.

With the ultimate goal being to create self-sustaining fisheries, the MI DNR plans on stocking select lakes and monitoring those lakes through creel clerk data and lake surveys to determine if self-sustaining walleye populations can be established. Of course these efforts will take time, but the end results should help the MI DNR determine which bodies of water have the most potential to provide noteworthy walleye fisheries moving forward.

It should come of no surprise to anyone who has studied the habitat requirements of walleye, that the lakes the DNR has identified as the best potential walleye fisheries are mostly located in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula. Deep, cool and sprawling waters that provide a variety of shallow and deep water habitat are the best candidates for producing noteworthy walleye fisheries.

Many of the lakes previously stocked in southern Michigan, simply don’t offer these important characteristics and ultimately become “put and take” fisheries.


SOMEWHAT DISAPPOINTING

I did however find it somewhat disappointing that DNR survey results suggest that anglers in Michigan are satisfied with walleye regulations and daily creel limits as they currently exist. I can only conclude that many anglers in Michigan have not had the luxury of traveling outside the state to sample walleye fishing in other states and Canadian providences. In other areas walleye are managed much differently than here in Michigan.

According to this survey data anglers in Michigan show little interest in establishing Catch and Immediately Release fisheries where walleye are concerned. The same survey data suggests that there is only moderate interest in establishing Protective Slot Limits as a management tool.

Perhaps making a comparison to bass fishermen will help put walleye regulations in perspective. It only took a short period of time for the MI DNR to establish Catch and Immediately Release regulations for bass. A handful of test waters were established for a couple years and then soon afterwards the Catch and Immediate Release regulations for bass were extended statewide.

All indications are that these unique regulations are providing additional fishing opportunities while creating little to no harm to respective fisheries.

Apparently, walleye fishermen are so concerned with keeping their catch, survey results indicated there is little interest in creating any Catch and Immediate Release fisheries for walleye. In the spirit of compromise, would it not be a good idea to establish some open year around, but limited harvest fisheries that could be further studied to see if select walleye waters could be managed for trophy potential? We will never know unless efforts are taken to study the potential for creating limited harvest or Catch and Immediately Release waters for walleye.


While MI laws do not currently require selective harvest on species like walleye, the author notes that anglers can clearly take matters into their own hands. Releasing larger size class fish in favor of harvesting smaller fish simply makes good sense for the long term management goals of any walleye fishery.


SUMMARY

I do feel that the Walleye Management Plan for Inland Waters is a step in the right direction. Simply acknowledging that Michigan’s inland walleye fisheries could be improved and creating a base line of data from which to work from is a major step forward.

Of course the weak links boil down to stocking select fisheries and keeping a watchful eye on those fisheries to determine if stocking is not only helping the catch rate, but supplementing natural reproduction. Potentially using slot limits to help stocking efforts evolve into highly successful natural reproduction also makes sense.

Larger walleye in the 18 to 24 inch class contribute most to the annual spawning efforts. By giving these adult fish some harvest protection, the process of establishing self-sustaining fisheries can be achieved more efficiently.

Not only do these fisheries need to be surveyed regularly to monitor populations and evidence of natural reproduction, law enforcement efforts need to be stepped up to insure anglers are playing by the rules and that poaching efforts are eliminated.

Improving our inland walleye resources will require a cooperative effort between fisheries biologists, anglers, local communities and law enforcement officers. If we all work together, Michigan anglers can soon be enjoying better and more self-sustaining walleye fisheries.

Now the ball is in the DNR’s court. Soon we shall see if this management plan will grow fruit or die on the vine.


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