Brad Dokken: DNR seeks input on drafting new Lake of the Woods management plan

Feb. 15—Do you have an opinion about how Lake of the Woods is being managed? Is the season too long? Are anglers keeping too many small fish? Is there too much winter fishing pressure? Should limits be reduced?

Well, here's a chance to give your 2 cents' worth.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is asking people interested in Lake of the Woods fisheries management to share their views about future management of the big lake.

As I reported in late November, the

DNR is gearing up to draft a new five-year management plan

that will guide fisheries management on Lake of the Woods from 2024 to 2029.

The Lake of the Woods fisheries management plan was last updated in 2018 with assistance from a 14-member Lake of the Woods Fisheries Input Group. In a news release, the DNR said it will be important for the update to reflect public values and perspectives on how the lake should be managed.

The updated plan will include management goals, objectives and strategies for the lake for the next five years.

"We'll really be diving into starting to look at the various aspects of the management plan," Matt Skoog, area fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Baudette, Minnesota, told me in November. "We're obviously looking to go back and look at everything, just do our due diligence, on making sure that the management actions we're taking are still sound actions.

"What do they actually mean in regards to the health of the fishery?"

An online scoping questionnaire is available on the DNR's Lake of the Woods webpage — mndnr.gov/lakeofthewoods — through Friday, March 15. The purpose of the online questionnaire is to help generate ideas and identify potential planning issues and opportunities specific to Lake of the Woods as the DNR begins the planning process.

"This questionnaire offers people the chance to help advance management of the high quality, multi-species fishery that is Lake of the Woods," Skoog said in a statement. "We especially want to hear peoples' thoughts about walleye and sauger angling, observations about winter angling, the importance of keeping fish to eat, as well as ideas about large fish like lake sturgeon and northern pike."

As Skoog told me in November, it's possible that many aspects of the existing plan won't change.

"We're taking a fresh look at (everything), as you should any time you update a management plan," he said.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Feb. 13, Skoog said the Lake of the Woods Fisheries Input Group met in early December and will meet again in late March or early April to discuss results from the survey that's now online and "how we're going to implement anything that comes out of this survey."

Once a draft of the new management plan is available, there will be additional public input opportunities.

"There will be a similar survey that allows people to comment through an online portal," Skoog said. "The plan is also to do at least one in-person (meeting) in the local area, either in Baudette or Warroad, possibly. I don't know yet, for sure, on that."

The DNR also could hold an "online town hall-style meeting" in addition to the public meeting, he said, with the goal of having the new management plan finalized by early fall.

At this point, at least, no specific regulation changes are in the works, Skoog said. Results from the

DNR's annual fall gillnetting survey on Lake of the Woods

showed an uptick in walleye and sauger numbers, both of which were above historic averages.

"We'll see what comes out of the management planning process as we move forward, but as of right now, we don't have any reg changes we're looking at, at this point," he said.

The process to update the management plan comes at a time of increasing winter pressure on the big lake. During the winter of 2022-23, for example, anglers logged an estimated 3.2 million hours of fishing pressure on Lake of the Woods, based on results from a DNR winter creel survey, compared with 600,000 hours of pressure last summer.

Preliminary results from this winter's creel survey to date aren't available, Skoog said, but anecdotally, fishing pressure "will probably be down" because of this year's unseasonable winter conditions.

"I'm not going to bet on when (winter) will end, but we certainly got a late start to the season," he said. "We were close to a month late on starting the (winter) creel survey."

Despite the late start, fishing reports are favorable, and definitely better than last year. Even with record ice fishing pressure, anglers last winter on Lake of the Woods kept an estimated 94,200 pounds of walleyes and 121,094 pounds of saugers, down from 160,000 pounds of walleyes and 260,000 pounds of saugers during the winter of 2021-22, based on creel survey results.

"People have been catching a lot of fish — it sounds like a lot of walleyes and good eater walleyes," Skoog said. "Fishing generally, from what I've been hearing, has been pretty good."

* On the web:

More information about Lake of the Woods is available on the Minnesota DNR website at

mndnr.gov/lakeofthewoods.