The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced a Quality Bluegill Initiative that seeks to improve and protect high-quality bluegill fisheries in the state, and now the DNR is asking the public to weigh in on proposed rule changes.

If public support is there and the proposals go into effect, it would mean a drop in sunfish bag limits on many lakes across the state. Anglers are being asked to take an online survey on the DNR’s sunfish webpage to voice their opinion on the proposed changes.

What changes would look like

Fisheries managers would aim to increase the number of lakes that have reduced bag limits of sunfish from 60 to 250 by the year 2023 in order to increase the size quality of the fisheries.

A 10-fish bag limit would apply to lakes in which anglers want to maintain current populations of large sunfish. A 5-fish bag limit would apply to lakes where the desire is to increase the number of large sunfish.

The statewide bag limit on bluegills is currently 20, and the DNR says sunfish are the most harvested fish in the state. Studies have shown that angler harvest, especially of large male sunfish, can have a huge impact on overall size quality in a lake.

Each lake chosen for these special regulations has been identified by fisheries managers as having biological potential to produce large sunfish. Five lakes in the Glenwood DNR’s management area are a part of the lakes under consideration.

Those changes would look to make a 10-fish bag limit for bluegills on Lake Osakis (Douglas and Todd County), Irene (Douglas County) and Grove (Pope County), and five-fish bag limits on Whiskey Lake (Douglas County) and Gilchrist (Pope County).

“Those are some of the lakes in our area that currently have or have had some of the highest quality bluegill fisheries in them,” Glenwood DNR fisheries specialist Chris Uphoff said in an interview with the Echo Press in February. “We have a more extensive list and we’ll be introducing those five this year and additional lakes next year.”

Thirteen other lakes in nearby Otter Tail County (Bass, Deer, East Lost, Fish (near Weetown), Fish (near Parkers Prairie), Franklin, Long, Prairie, Red River Lake, Stuart, Wall, West Long, West Silent) are also on the initial list of lakes that the DNR has identified for the reduced bag limits. The full list of the lakes being considered right now around the state can be seen at the DNR’s sunfish webpage.

“Bluegills in the area are definitely harvest oriented, and those lakes that do have quality bluegills still remaining are targeted pretty heavily,” Uphoff said of local waters. “We’ve definitely seen over the years, both in our information and talking to anglers, a decrease in the number of the larger fish in these systems.”

That’s been the reports from many people on lakes all around the state. The DNR said concerns for the low numbers of large bluegills in Minnesota have been voiced by anglers, resort owners and popular figures in the fishing media.

Why reduced bag limits can work

Catching sunfish is not a problem. Many Minnesota lakes hold high numbers of bluegills, but finding big sunnies, generally considered 8 inches or longer, has become a challenge.

In spring and early summer, sunfish nest in large colonies. Male sunfish compete for the best spawning sites in a lake. Only the largest sunfish build and defend nests. When anglers keep the largest sunfish, competition for spawning decreases and there is less need for smaller males to devote energy to grow larger.

Instead, with a lack of spawning competition, they devote more energy to spawning at younger ages and smaller sizes. In lakes where large sunfish become overharvested, sunfish may not grow as fast as they once did.

“These regulations have been applied elsewhere in the state, and they’ve seen some really good improvements in the size quality of bluegills in the systems where it has been applied,” Uphoff said of the reduced bag limit strategy. “I can imagine, especially in the lakes here we’re proposing now, an increase in the large number of bluegills in these systems. Bluegill fishing should only get better if we are able to impose some of these regulations.”