Changes to regulations on the northern pike and muskellunge, including one specific to lakes in Presque Isle and Montmorency counties, could be on the way.
In an effort to maintain fishing opportunities while restructuring fish populations, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division has recommended changes to northern pike size and catch limits, Kregg Smith, senior fisheries biologist, said. Muskellunge catch limits also will be lowered to ensure more anglers have a chance to catch the fish.
For northern pike, the regulations would change to modify or eliminate the minimum size limit in effect on certain lakes, according to the Fisheries Division recommendations. A protected size slot also would be created, where fish between the lengths of 24 to 34 inches must be released, and all others can be kept.
In Presque Isle County, Tomahawk Flooding and Ocqueoc Lake, along with all other lakes drained by the Ocqueoc River, would no longer have a 24-inch minimum size limit on northern pike, according to the recommendations. Pug Lakes in Montmorency County also would see the same change.
"In general, you're seeing slow growth, and a very high number of fish in those waters," Smith said. "We're trying to allow anglers to harvest them and restructure the population."
Current statewide regulations for northern pike, which establish a 24-inch minimum size limit and a possession limit of two per day, will stay in effect on most of Michigan's inland lakes, according to the recommendations. On certain lakes where there is no minimum size limit and a possession cap of five per day, this could be changed to five per day but no more than one 24 inches in length or longer for waters where pike populations are down.
Muskie anglers would have a new possession limit of one fish per year, instead of the current one per day, according to the recommendations. A kill tag also would need to be attached to the fish, similar to those for sturgeon.
While there's no indication current regulations have negatively affected muskie populations, this is likely because most anglers release even the legal-sized fish they catch, according to the summary of a 2012 DNR survey. Should attitudes shift and anglers start to keep more fish, the current possession limit would be too high.
"This is largely to redistribute the harvest over more anglers," Smith said. "Generally, muskie are a species that have very low numbers in population."
The purpose behind changing northern pike regulations is to restructure the size distribution in numerous inland lakes where pike may be slower to grow, Smith said.
"The average pike may be age four at 24 inches," he said. "It's likely in those waters, where they're growing much slower, they're either five or six years old before" they reach that length.
The protected size slot would also serve to balance out a population's size structure by giving fish a few more years to grow, Smith said.
"(This) gives anger catch rates a little better manageable effort for anglers," he said.
These recommendations are the fruit of a five-year process starting with the development of management plans for the two species in 2007, Smith said. The DNR then took public comments in 2009 and 2010, and worked with anglers associations in the state before taking one last round of public comment in 2011.
The Natural Resources Commission will make a final decision on the recommendations at its Oct. 11 meeting in Ontonagon, Smith said. Anyone who wants to make a comment on the proposals can contact Debbie Whipple at 517-373-2352 or email written comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5688.