Minnesota DNR proposal aims to safeguard big bluegills

Anglers can weigh in on whether to keep fewer bluegills from some Minnesota lakes as a way to protect and improve the sizes of one of the state’s most prized and frequently caught fish.

“We’re hearing from more and more of our stakeholders, every-day anglers, resort owners, fishing guides and fishing celebrities that they’d like more opportunities for large bluegill,” said Dave Weitzel, Grand Rapids area fisheries supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

DNR area fisheries staff worked with local anglers and angling groups to identify lakes where bluegill size could be improved by lowering bag limits. Under this proposal, some lakes would have a bag limit of five bluegills and others a limit of 10. Reduced bag limits have worked on other Minnesota lakes in past years to maintain big bluegills under increasing fishing pressure. In some cases, the number of big bluegills in those lakes increased.

The statewide limit is 20 bluegills per angler. Bluegills are also known as sunfish.

The DNR has posted a list of proposed lakes designated for changes, as well as how people can provide input at mndnr.gov/sunfish. People can provide input now into this fall. The DNR will post informational signs at water accesses on lakes included in the proposal.

“We really want to get the public’s opinion on these regulations. A regulation only works if people support it,” Weitzel said. “We believe that, through the use of reduced bag limits, we can definitely maintain our high-quality bluegill fisheries, and maybe even improve some of those that have slipped over the years. And it’s going to benefit anglers.”

This proposal is the result of years of discussion and the review of angler and lake survey data. The DNR heard from anglers that they’re satisfied with the number of bluegills they catch, but that the size of the fish has been decreasing.

The DNR mailed questions to a random selection of anglers and asked about the level of support for reducing bag limits for the whole state. While anglers did not overwhelmingly support a statewide change, there was strong support for reducing limits on selected lakes.

Based on input collected through the summer, the DNR will make any necessary changes to the proposal, and new regulations could go into effect March 1, 2021.

Bluegill biology and fishing

On any lake, anglers can voluntarily help protect big bluegills by releasing or limiting their harvest of those eight inches or bigger.

Spawning bluegills are particularly prone to over harvest because they are very aggressive while defending a nest. Anglers can help by releasing spawning bluegills, especially large, nesting males. Released fish have a high survival rate and will typically return to their nests to complete the spawning cycle.

Fish are a healthy source of protein but any fish – even those bought in a store – can contain contaminants that can harm human health, especially in children and fetuses. You can learn more by checking out fish consumption guidelines in the fishing regulations booklet.

More information about sunfish biology and management can be found at mndnr.gov/sunfish.