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DNR changes walleye fishing regulations in some northern WI lakes to protect declining populations

iStock/ Willard

The state Department of Natural Resources announced new regulations to northern Wisconsin walleye fishing Wednesday.

Walleye populations are dropping in lakes across the region, so the DNR is taking steps to better protect the species and ensure the fish can keep reproducing.

Starting May 7, the fishing season opener, anglers on a number of lakes in Price, Iron and Vilas counties can keep a daily bag limit of three walleye, but the fish must be between 15 and 20 inches long. Just one of those fish can be over 24 inches long.

DNR Fisheries Research Team Leader Greg Sass says these regulations are meant to protect both young walleye and larger, older females.

“Most of our walleyes in the ceded territory that are over 20 inches are females, so this gives an opportunity to preserve some of those larger females and have them contribute to natural recruitment in several of these populations,” he says.

That’s important, Sass says, because walleye populations in some lakes aren’t naturally replenishing.

“We’re not seeing the level of natural recruitment that we have in the past,” he says. “Some of our populations have either had very weak natural reproduction over time, or at least recently, and some of them have had complete failures of natural recruitment.”

Sass says the decline is likely due to a number of reasons, from a warmer climate to invasive species to changing angler behaviors.

The hope is that the new regulations will reverse the years-long population decline.

Waterbodies affected by the new regulation include:

  • Big Falls Flowage (Rusk County)
  • Crowley Flowage (Price County)
  • Dairyland Reservoir (Rusk County)
  • Elk River (entire) (Price County)
  • Flambeau River, including waters of the North Fork Flambeau River, between Turtle-Flambeau Dam and Thornapple Flowage Dam (Ashland, Iron, Price, Rusk and Sawyer counties)
  • Grassy Lake (Price County)
  • Lac Sault Dore (Price County)
  • Ladysmith Flowage (Rusk County)
  • Lower Park Falls Flowage (Price County)
  • Phillips Chain (Duroy, Elk, Long, Wilson lakes and connecting waters combined) (Price County)
  • Pike Lake Chain (Amik, Pike, Round, Turner lakes and connecting waters combined) (Price and Vilas counties)
  • Pixley Flowage (Price County
  • Solberg Lake (Price County)
  • South Fork Flambeau River (entire) (Price, Rusk and Sawyer counties)
  • Thornapple Flowage (Rusk County)
  • Upper Park Falls Flowage (Price County)
Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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