There are more northern pike in Mille Lacs Lake than any time in the last 30 years, and they are fast-growing fish.
That’s according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which has increased the bag limit and season length for this popular game fish for the 2014 fishing season as part of an effort to increase angling opportunity.
“Our 2013 northern pike population survey is the highest on record,” said Tim Goeman, DNR regional fisheries manager. “We’ve never seen so many 1- and 2-year-old fish.”
With Mille Lacs anglers traditionally focusing heavily on walleye, northern pike present a relatively untapped potential for fishing fun, especially with new regulations this year.
Mille Lacs anglers can keep 10 northern pike, including one longer than 30 inches, which represents an increase of seven fish more than last year’s limit on Mille Lacs. The DNR announced the new regulations this year along with others that can be seen online.
“Our intent is to maximize northern pike fishing opportunity to help support the local economy,” Goeman said. “Walleye population numbers are down, and regulations on them are more restrictive than pike. So, this is a way to responsibly manage an emerging opportunity on a year-to-year basis.”
Mille Lacs northern pike are among the fastest growing in the state. By age 3, a Mille Lacs pike is typically between 24- and 28-inches long. That compares to a more typical 18- to 21-inches long for a 3-year-old pike in many other Minnesota lakes.
“There are a lot of nice pike in the lake,” said Goeman, who added that that most anglers have traditionally released what they caught. In 2013, he said, anglers caught about 19,000 northern pike but kept only 1,600. And that was with a slot limit that protected northern pike that were 33- to 40-inches long.
“The current pike population is estimated at 57,000,” Goeman said. “So even if anglers last year kept every pike they caught the population would be fine.”
In some lakes, northern pike can cause problems when they are under-harvested and consume too much of the prey base. DNR research is under way to determine what role if any an expanding pike population may be having on the Mille Lacs fishing community. In the meantime, Goeman said anglers should consider keeping a limit of northern pike for a fish fry or pickling. “It won’t be harmful; it will probably be fun,” he said.
Goeman said the higher northern pike population is likely the result of multiple factors. Mille Lacs water is clearer than 20 years ago, which can benefit site feeders like pike. Vegetation beds from Eurasian watermilfoil could also benefit such predatory fish. Additionally, the pike in Mille Lacs generally have an excellent food supply consisting of minnows, perch and ciscoe.