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April 30th, 2014



LAKE VERMILION—Anglers heading out on the big lake for the walleye opener on May 10 will find plenty of fish, and one of the heftiest populations of jumbo walleye in years. That’s the upshot of the latest fish survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The results come from test-netting conducted by the DNR last fall.

The DNR caught an average of 18.2 walleye per test net on Lake Vermilion in late 2013, well above the long-term average of 14.5. And the fish were larger, with an average length of 14.2 inches, again well above the long-term trend.


The catch of 17-21 inch walleye was exceptional, according to the report, although many of the larger fish came from the west end of the lake, which traditionally has fewer, but larger, walleye than the big water on the eastern end. Those discrepancies between east and west were evident in the fish survey results.


On Vermilion’s east end, DNR fisheries staff caught an average of 22.1 walleye per net, compared to 12.4 in the west.


The solid survey results reflect strong year classes from 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2011, when walleye survival was particularly strong, according to the DNR.


The abundance of larger walleye likely reflects a very strong year class in 2006 and 2007, as well as the impact of the protected 17-24 inch slot limit implemented by the DNR in 2006. The protected slot was modified to 18-26 inches in 2012. Anglers, particularly those on the west end of the lake, pushed for those changes out of concern that too many fish they were catching were within the protected slot.


Big jump in perch population


While a healthy walleye population is a good sign for anglers, the abundance of natural forage can also impact angler success. And the test-netting results for perch found the highest perch numbers ever documented on Lake Vermilion, at a whopping 55.3 fish per net, more than double the long term average. At the same time, the mean length of perch caught was just 7.0 inches, well below the historical average.


The latest perch results are a dramatic departure from the past several years, when netting showed below average perch numbers. At the time, many anglers and resort owners argued that the low perch numbers were connected to a sharp increase in the lake’s cormorant population. Cormorants feed heavily on perch and they have had significant impact on fisheries elsewhere in Minnesota.


Last year, however, the DNR, with the assistance of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, undertook a control effort to reduce the cormorant population. Sharpshooters killed approximately 70 adult cormorants and oiled cormorant eggs on the lake’s main nesting island, sharply reducing chick survival.


Even prior to the control effort, the lake’s cormorant population appeared to have peaked after several years of dramatic increase. Between 2004 and 2012, the number of cormorant nests on Vermilion’s Potato Island had jumped from 32 to 434. In 2013, however, the number of nests declined to 349, and all but a handful of those were abandoned in the wake of the control measures.


DNR officials have yet to determine if they will undertake control measures on cormorants again this year.


Other species


The DNR averaged 0.7 northern pike per test net, slightly below the historical average, although the average size, at 27.6 inches, was well above long term trends.


Story by the Timberjay Newspaper