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Paynesville Press - September 28, 2005

DNR expects modified regulations on Long Lake

By Michael Jacobson

Following an open house to review special fishing regulations on Long Lake, near Hawick, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) expects to modify these special rules but to continue to promote the production of bigger largemouth bass.

Eight people attended the DNR's open house in New London on Tuesday, Sept. 20, according to Bruce Gilbertson, manager of the Spicer Area Fisheries Office that oversees Long Lake. The general impression, said Gilbertson, was support for maintaining some sort of special regulations. "They feel something is necessary to maintain the good bass fishing and possibly the side benefit of the bluegill size," he explained.

Gilbertson, though, did hear support from the public for having the ability to harvest bigger bass. One suggestion is to increase the maximum size from 12 inches (roughly a three-quarter pound bass) to 14 inches (about a one pounder). Another suggestion is to allow anglers to take one 20-inch, or trophy, fish (about five pounds in size).

The public can still comment about the fishing regulations on Long Lake in writing until Monday, Oct. 3. Written comments should be sent to: Bruce Gilbertson, Spicer Area Fisheries Office; P.O. Box 457; Spicer, MN 56288.

Special regulations were established on a number of Minnesota lakes, including Long Lake and Green Lake, in 1997 with the goal to produce more quality (i.e. big fish), according to Gilbertson.

The maximum size for largemouth bass on Long Lake was chosen as a special regulation so as to encourage the growth of larger bass, while still using fishing as a population check. As the smaller bass still can be harvested, the overall abundance should remain fairly steady, with only the average size increasing.

According to the DNR data, which it collects on largemouth bass by electrofishing in the spring, the regulations appear to have produced larger bass in Long Lake, though the trend was strongest in the 1999, 2001, and 2003 counts and fell off slightly in 2005.

Looking at the estimated mean size of largemouth bass caught on Long Lake, this average increased from 9.6 inches in 1996 to 12.1 inches by 1999, then to 12.5 inches in 2001, fell slightly to 11.7 inches in 2003, and then dropped a bit more to 10.6 inches in 2005. This average size, though, is still greater than most years of monitoring on Long Lake prior to the special regulations.

The DNR also looks at the number of fish caught per hour of at least a given size. Counting just the bass at least 12 inches in size, the number in the electrofishing counts has gone from 22.17 in 1996, to 8.00 in 1997, to 40.63 in 1999, to 49.30 in 2001, to 36.98 in 2003, and to 24.63 in 2005.

The data from 1999, 2001, and 2003 strongly suggests that the special regulations did help increase the average size of largemouth bass on Long Lake, said Gilbertson. This year's data shows a decline, but whether that is just a natural cycle or a real drop can't be known yet.

Also according to the DNR data, the average bluegill size on Long Lake has also increased since 1997, and Gilbertson believes this may be a side benefit of the special regulations for bass.

The pounds of preferred bluegills (at least eight inches in size) per trap net on Long Lake is: 1990, 0 pounds; 1994, 2 pounds; 1997, 1 pound; 1999, 0 pounds; 2001, 3 pounds; 2003, 2 pounds; and 2005, 18 pounds.

Typically, there's an inverse relationship between the number of bluegills and the average size, said Gilbertson. Meaning, as the population increases, the size usually declines; or vice versa. In 2005, though, the bluegills in Long Lake not only were populous, reaching the highest levels since 1994, but their average size also increased. That makes Gilbertson think that the bluegill size is being influenced by the special regulations for bass.

Once all comments, both verbal and written, are received, the DNR will consider all the public input, will examine all options, and will make an internal recommendation about the fishing regulations for Long Lake, said Gilbertson. That recommendation will go to St. Paul, where it will be reviewed. Ultimately, the DNR commissioner will make the final decision on the fishing regulations for Long Lake.

Regulations for Long Lake will be in place for 2006, said Gilbertson. Special regulations for Long Lake will be published as well as posted at the public access on the northwest corner of the lake.

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