Mille Lacs likely to see tight walleye regulations again this summer

Vollmer

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By: Sam Cook, Forum News Service



One thing is certain about this summer's walleye regulations on Mille Lacs Lake: They're likely to be at least as restrictive as last year's, when anglers were allowed to keep just two walleyes between 18 and 20 inches, with one over 28 allowed in the limit.
Fisheries officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources are expected to announce this year's regulations soon.
Restrictive regulations are in place on the popular lake because for several years preceding the 2013 hatch of walleyes, few young walleyes were surviving past their first fall. The 2013 class has shown better survival, and DNR officials hope the 2014 class will follow suit.
The total safe harvest level of walleyes on Mille Lacs is governed by an agreement between the state and eight Native American bands covered by an 1837 treaty. For this year, the total safe harvest level is 40,000 pounds of walleyes, down from 60,000 pounds last year. The state hook-and-line harvest this year must not exceed 28,600 pounds and the bands' harvest may not exceed 11,400 pounds.
The total safe harvest level has been as high as 250,000 pounds in 2013, 500,000 pounds in 2012 and 600,000 pounds in 2006.
"The main reason it's 40,000 now is so that the spawning-stock biomass (numbers of spawning adult walleyes) doesn't go down any further than it is," said Rick Bruesewitz, DNR area fisheries supervisor at Aitkin. "We have a few years before that 2013 year class matures. We want to maintain the potential for good year classes within that time frame."
Among regulation options the DNR shared with its Mille Lacs Lake Fishery Input Group recently are:
• Reducing the possession limit from two walleyes to one
• Changing the harvest slot size to 19 to 21 inches (from 18 to 20 inches)
• Keeping a season-long ban on night fishing, as was in place last year
• Adding bait or gear restrictions
Of those, the extended night fishing ban was the least unpopular of options among the input group, Bruesewitz said.
The shift in slot-limit size was proposed because research shows Mille Lacs walleyes of that size -- 19 to 21 inches -- are well-fed, Bruesewitz said, and less likely to bite for anglers, thus keeping the harvest level down.
Terry McQuoid of McQuoid's Inn at Isle, Minn., said walleye populations have dropped at other times in his 43 years in the fishing and resort business on Mille Lacs. But this decline has lasted longer. He supports the extended night fishing ban and says a shift in the slot limit wouldn't be a problem.
He said anglers caught good numbers of 10- to 16-inch walleyes this winter.
"I look for us to have a pretty decent year this year," McQuoid said, while acknowledging that anglers still would be able to keep few fish.
Last year, when the safe harvest level was 60,000 pounds, the state angling allocation was 42,900 pounds. Anglers harvested just 24,000 pounds, Bruesewitz said. He attributed the low harvest to less fishing pressure and a slow walleye bite.
Whatever regulations the DNR decides on, the hope is that they will not have to be further adjusted during the season.
"We're looking at regulations that will have a very low chance of resulting in too high a harvest, that would force us going to a catch-and-release harvest in the middle of the season," Bruesewitz said.
Some anglers have suggested the DNR simply stock a lot of walleye fry (juvenile walleyes) to bolster the population. But that wouldn't help, and it could hurt the fishery, Bruesewitz said.
"The big issue at Mille Lacs isn't reproduction," Bruesewitz said. "The big issue is survival of juveniles. We have way more than enough juveniles every fall, indicating good reproduction. What we had been experiencing was low survival of those fish from the first fall to the next and into the next couple of years.
"If we stock on top of that natural reproduction, we're putting more little walleye mouths out there, and there will be fewer perch and tullibee surviving (as forage for walleyes)."
This fall, when the DNR surveys walleyes, fisheries officials will find out whether the 2014 year class is surviving in good numbers. That may hint that walleyes are recovering on Mille Lacs.
"I've seen the good times and I've seen the tough ones," McQuoid said, "and we're just in a tough one. And it never gets fixed as fast as people want it to. I don't know whether that's much of a possibility in this case."
 


DirtyMike

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I fished this lake once, while I was going to school in MPLS. We caught some nice fish that day. We did keep our three a piece but I would have thrown them back any day here. Definitely come cool little bars around the lake. Hopefully the muskie and smallmouth fisheries will keep those places alive.
 

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DirtyMike

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Lets hope not. I know Leech is making a come back as well. There's so much fishable water there you really have to wonder why there's so many that travel this far for a walleye. When I fish with a few friends from SD, I'm amazed at how many Iowa and Nebraska plates there are at the ramps. And that's the norm down there.
 

Vollmer

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I still prefer Sakakawea, but that's mostly due to comfort. I honestly should get out to DL and learn it. My sister and brother-in-law farm by cando, so I really have no excuse not to head that way.
 


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