Why is there NO closed season or other walleye harvest restrictions on Devils Lake?
To answer this question, we must first determine if there is a problem with harvesting big fish. Some argue that allowing spring fishing has the potential to result in over-harvest of big females, which would seemingly hurt reproduction potential for the year. While this perception is common, Game and Fish biologists have not documented any negative effects on walleye reproduction in Devils Lake.
Environmental influences usually play a much greater role on reproductive success. A good example is the walleye reproduction that took place in spring 2009 at Devils Lake. Tremendous winter moisture led to extensive and prolonged spring runoff down the coulees leading into the lake. Fishing was very good in the coulees that spring, with walleye and northern pike caught as far upstream as Cando.
Although fishing pressure and presumably harvest was relatively high, natural walleye reproduction still occurred at a record level. The catch rate of young-of-the-year walleye in fall 2009 was nearly seven times higher than the previously recorded high. Similar (but not as dramatic) results have been noted other years, including 2012 when the young walleye catch rate was the second highest recorded. This dispels the notion that spring fish harvest, at current levels, limits overall reproduction.
While spring fishing again at current levels doesn’t pose a reproductive (i.e., a biological) problem, it has created a social problem, at least for some. Spring effort is often directed toward spawning fish because they are concentrated and most vulnerable at that time. While some anglers view this practice as acceptable, others believe the anglers who target big fish in the spring as “taking more than their fair share,” which diminishes opportunities for others to catch big walleyes.
However, the early spring period usually accounts for far less than 5 percent of the total open-water walleye harvest. While some believe that spring shore anglers harvest inordinate numbers of large fish, creel surveys have shown that 80 percent of walleye harvested during the spring at Devils Lake are under 20 inches. Due to the low percentage of large fish harvested, a regulation would have to be extremely restrictive to reduce big fish harvest even a small amount.
The Game and Fish Department carefully monitors Devils Lake fish populations, and would consider appropriate regulations if they would result in actual improvements in population structure or health. But when overall regulations would have no effect on the population, the Department leaves the personal decision whether to harvest a fish up to the anglers. •