Special regulations vs. northern pike zones: Which wins?

One question that may arise from anglers reading the northern pike zone regulations in effect when the season opens Saturday, May 12: What about special regulations that apply to individual waters? 

The answer is simple: Special regulations take precedence over statewide regulations, including the pike zone regulations. If the possession limit on a special regulation lake, river or stream is different than the zone limit, the special regulation limit applies.

“We still have special regulations in our fish management tackle box, so to speak, and we want to make sure anglers continue to check for them wherever they’re dropping a line,” said Al Stevens, fisheries program consultant with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Special regulations are designed to meet specific management objectives for individual waters based on lake-specific fish population characteristics. They aim to improve fish populations where statewide regulations are not sufficient to meet objectives, like managing a lake for trophy-sized fish.

There are more than 90 waters in the state with special regulations on northern pike, all listed in the special regulations section of the 2018 Minnesota Fishing Regulations. For lakes, they can also be found using the DNR’s Lake Finder tool at mndnr.gov/fishmn.

In contrast, the northern pike regulations for inland waters announced recently have three distinct zones to address the different characteristics of pike populations in Minnesota.

A real-life example of this is Wabedo Lake in Cass County that has a special regulation for pike requiring all pike from 24 to 36 inches to be immediately released, with a possession limit of three pike and only one over 36 inches. Even though the north-central zone regulation has a higher possession limit than three, an angler on Wabedo could only keep three pike but none from 24 to 36 inches and just one over 36 inches.

“We want special regulations to actually be special. What’s more, we are limited by statute as to how many special regulation waters there can be,” Stevens said. “So having zones for pike is a way to achieve management goals while simplifying regulations.”

While many special regulations remain in place, for some waters the pike zone regulations allow several previously existing special regulations to go away, mainly when they aim for similar outcomes as the zone regulations.

The pike zone regulations apply only to inland waters. For more information visit mndnr.gov/pike or contact a local area fisheries office. Contact information can be found at mndnr.gov/areas/fisheries or in the printed fishing regulations booklet.