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Scott Rall: Don't forget the lowly pike

SCOTT RALL The Globe outdoors columnist The walleye opener is Saturday, May 12, and a big day it will be. Opening day starts at midnight for the most diehard of anglers. It usually means casting some kind of offering at any constriction that has ...

SCOTT RALL

The Globe outdoors columnist

The walleye opener is Saturday, May 12, and a big day it will be.

Opening day starts at midnight for the most diehard of anglers.  It usually means casting some kind of offering at any constriction that has some current.

This could be a stream culver or any drain tile draining into a lake or stream. I no longer have that killer instinct when it comes to fishing opener.

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There is going to be one substantial change in regulations this season, and for many folks it won’t matter a bit.

The rules are changing for northern pike. Some people like them and others just plain hate them. They call them snakes or slimmers. I know many anglers who if they hook one in the boat they won’t even bring it into the boat.

The pike have a coating on their skin that feels like slime.  Anglers don’t want it on their hands or in their nets. The fish can leave a gooey spot on your boat carpet as well.

I like pike just fine, but southwest Minnesota is not considered prime pike country. Northern Minnesota is known for better pike numbers and larger sizes.

There is not much that swims that fights like a big pike.

The issues with pike across the state are complex.  In some waters they are so numerous that they never grow to a big size and will just not leave your bait along when you are trying to catch a walleye.

These fish are called hammer handles. They are small pike in the 12-16-inch range.

Pike are full of bones and need to be cleaned correctly.  A small pike with all of the bones removed leaves little meat to eat, so many anglers just pass on keeping any smaller pike at all.

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In other places they grow fast, like in southern Minnesota. But they are so aggressive that they can quickly be over-harvested, so very few pike remain.

The range of pike in Minnesota is so large that managing for the different types of lakes and streams is difficult.  

In the past, the rules were pretty much three pike per day with no size restrictions.  Certain lakes do have special harvest regulations, but with those exceptions most lakes are all managed the same.

This purely and simply does not work. The DNR has been working for years to manage the state’s waters differently depending on where in the state the lake is located.  After years of trying it has now become a reality.

With the opener on Saturday, the pike regs are very different than in the past.  If you fish in the southern zone you can now keep only two pike and both have to be at least 24 inches long. The goal is to reduce harvest in lakes with smaller populations and give those fish a chance to grow larger.

In the north central zone which constitutes the majority of the state, you can now keep 10 pike under 22 inches long. All fish between 22-26 inches have to be released. You can keep two pike if they are longer than 26 inches.  This is designed to allow for some angler harvest of decent sized fish and really hopes to reduce the number of hammer handles in the lakes. As the smaller fish are removed it will generally increase the grown rates of the other pike that remain.

The last zone in the state is the northeast zone way up in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota. There are lots of nice pike that swim in these waters.  

The managers wanted to protect some of these larger fish and tailored the regulations to do so.  You must release all fish in the 30-40-inch range with a limit of two fish per day, allowing one of them to be more than 40 inches in length.  A 40-inch pike is normally at least 20 pounds in size. A true trophy, for sure.

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Pike get a bad rap that I don’t think they deserve.  I listen to folks all the time that tell me they don’t taste all that great and walleye rule supreme.  

Could someone explain to me that if this is true, how come when I am doing a fish fry that includes an occasional pike in the mix, nobody can tell the difference?

If you hear a story long enough almost everyone will believe it. Pike can be part of your harvest and, cleaned right, they will do a fine job of feeding your family and friends.

Get a copy of the new fishing regulations and become familiar with the new rules. Chase a walleye and don’t forget to eat a few pike along the way.

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