For Wright County area anglers, there are plenty of other lakes. But the one that has been a “great get-away” for walleye lovers for years as been Mille Lacs.
Maybe not anymore.
As part of a plan to increase angling opportunity, improve walleye numbers and stay within the state’s 1837 Treaty safe harvest allocation, the Department of Natural Resources will modify fishing regulations at Mille Lacs Lake for the 2014 season, according to a release issued Tuesday, March 25.
It goes on to state:
The walleye daily and possession limit remain unchanged. The limit will be two walleye from 18- to 20-inches, except one longer than 28 inches may be taken.
The night fishing ban, enforced from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., will begin Monday, May 12, and will be extended through Monday, Dec. 1, rather than ending in mid-June.
The 2014 walleye safe harvest level is 60,000 pounds. Of this amount, 42,900 pounds is allocated to the state and 17,100 pounds is allocated to the eight Chippewa bands with 1837 Treaty harvest rights.
“The new regulations reflect our commitment to improving the walleye fishery as quickly as possible with as little harm to the local economy as possible,” said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief.
When new regulations go into effect on Saturday, May 10, anglers will be able to keep 10 northern pike, of which only one may be longer than 30 inches. This increases the limit by seven. Anglers also will be able to fish for northern pike for a longer period of time. The close of the season will be extended from mid-February to the last Sunday in March. The northern pike spearing ban on Mille Lacs also will be removed.
Similarly, the smallmouth bass harvest season will be extended and limits relaxed. The smallmouth bass season on Mille Lacs will start May 10 and be exempted from the statewide catch-and-release regulation that begins in mid-September. This means anglers may harvest smallmouth bass from the opener until the last Sunday in February. Anglers may keep six fish, only one of which may be longer than 18 inches. The previous regulation allowed anglers to keep six fish 17- to 20-inches, only one of which could be longer than 20 inches.
“More liberal northern pike and smallmouth bass regulations speak to the fact these species can withstand additional pressure because their populations are at or near record highs,” Pereira said. “The current walleye regulation and the extended night fishing ban will protect upcoming year classes of young walleye, adult spawning stock and help ensure the harvest stays within the safe harvest level.”
Pereira said the suite of regulations reflects significant fish population changes at Mille Lacs. Walleye numbers are at a 40-year low. Northern pike numbers are at record highs. The smallmouth bass population has been increasing since the 1990s. Tullibee and perch populations, both important forage species, are relatively low.
Fish populations likely are being influenced by many factors, including clearer water, climate change, zebra mussels, spiny water fleas, Eurasian watermilfoil and a treaty management approach that focused too much walleye harvest on too narrow a size range of fish.
“Mille Lacs is a system under change and portions of that change began even prior to the treaty management that began in the late 1990s,” said Pereira. “The good news is that we have more than enough spawning walleye and a history of solid egg and fry production. What we need is for the walleye that hatch to grow into strong year classes for anglers to catch. That hasn’t happened since 2008. That’s why we are focused on protecting small walleye and our ample but declining walleye spawning stock.”
Pereira added that the agency is also committed to the long-term protection of the lake’s trophy smallmouth and trophy northern pike fisheries.
The DNR’s approach to managing Mille Lacs is currently under review by a panel of national fish management experts. The agency convened the panel earlier this year as part of a broad approach to involve outside experts and citizens in agency decision making.
Information about panel experts and Mille Lacs management can be found at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake.