Outdoors: Time for a change on walleye bag limits

By Ray Gildow

Contributing Writer

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is starting a very important discussion: Should walleye bag limits be reduced from the current six per day and six in possession to something less? This will not be a topic supported in many sections of the fishing community, but this is a discussion that, in my opinion, is long overdue. 

First a little history. The current walleye bag limit was established in 1956. Minnesota had a population of slightly more than 3 million people in 1956 and, while I have not found any data on the number of fishing licenses sold that year, the numbers were certainly much fewer than today. The population of Minnesota in 2016 was slightly over 5.5 million people. Not double the size from 1956, but getting close. Last year 1.1 million fishing licenses were sold in Minnesota and the average angler spent 15 days on the water fishing.

A DNR study done on Lake Winnibigoshish showed a 700 percent increase in fishing pressure from 1939 to 1977. Walleye yields during that period increased 150 percent, but the average weight of the fish caught went from 2.2 pounds from the 1930s to 1.3 pounds in the 1950s to 1.1 pounds in the 1970s.

Fresh Minnesota walleye (Photo by Ray Gildow)
Fresh Minnesota walleye (Photo by Ray Gildow)

On Mille Lacs Lake, 1992 was considered one of the best fishing years in modern history. But DNR data shows that 76 percent of anglers on a given day on Mille Lacs did not catch a fish that year. DNR data also shows that on a given day in Minnesota, 95 percent of anglers catch two walleyes per day or less.

So, what’s that problem here? I think it can be summed up with two concepts: technology and fishing pressure. Anglers are so much better at catching fish today than they were even 20 years ago because of all the technology advancements made in the fishing industry and fishing pressure is now a year-round issue. Wheel houses park on lakes in the winter and fish 24 hours a day. Social media spreads the news of hot fishing bites the same day the fish are biting. Cameras, sonar and sophisticated lake maps have eliminated all the hiding spots for fish. So, when the bite is on, large numbers of fish are caught even though not all anglers get in on the act.

I have been a fishing guide for 30 years. My customers understand the value of taking home just enough fish for a meal. The focus for us is the great outdoor fishing experience topped off with a few good fillets.

I think it is time for Minnesota to go to a three- or four-bag walleye limit. Thanks to new and ever-changing fishing regulations, we now have some of the best fishing ever. Reducing the bag limit is just the right thing to do to ensure that our grandkids get to continue to enjoy this wonderful Minnesota tradition!