by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political Editor
Despite what the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) calls a low walleye population, department fisheries experts report the outlook for summer fishing should result in good walleye opportunities. Dirk Peterson, DNR fisheries section chief, said efforts are also being made to expand opportunities for good fishing of northern pike and small mouth bass.
New regulations will be implemented on Mille Lacs Lake this spring as part of a multi-year effort to rebuild the lake’s legendary walleye population, the DNR reported Tuesday (March 19) during a media press conference.
Peterson said the size and structure of the walleye population needs improvement. He said the DNR is committed to remedying the situation as quickly as possible through regulations that are designed to increase survival of the lake’s younger and smaller walleye.
When the walleye season opens Saturday, May 11, anglers will be able to keep walleye only between 18 and 20 inches or longer than 28 inches. All others must be immediately released. The possession limit is two, with only one longer than 28 inches.
Last year, anglers could not keep walleye 17 to 28 inches in length. They could keep up to four walleye shorter than 17 inches, with one longer than 28 inches allowed.
Changes planned to affect fishing of northern and smallmouth bass will affect the lake’s 27- to 40-inch protected slot regulation for northern pike by narrowing it to a 33- to 40-inch protected slot, with only one pike longer than 40 inches allowed. The possession limit is three.
The smallmouth bass bag limit and slot limit will be broadened to allow for more harvest. The new regulation is a 17- to 20-inch protected slot. The possession limit is six, with only one longer than 20 inches in possession. Previously, all smallmouth bass less than 21 inches had to be immediately released and the possession limit was one.
By making the change to northerns and smallmouth bass, the DNR is protecting the quality components, Peterson said.
A predator data study will be done this spring to evaluate the DNR’s machinery in making a biomagnetic study to see who is eating what and who is eating whom. Peterson said the DNR will be adaptive in its management.
“For this summer, we will have good fishing on Mille Lacs, we will narrow the harvest lot and will create a smaller bag limit,” Peterson said.
Peterson said the tribes, as a matter of record, have voluntarily reduced their allocation by one-half.
The new regulations aim to keep the total walleye kill below the combined state-tribal 2013 safe harvest level of 250,000 pounds. Fishing regulations could be adjusted if angler kill is expected to be either higher or lower than anticipated. This year’s safe harvest level is the lowest established since treaty management began in 1997.
The new regulations are taking into consideration warm summers and higher hooking mortality, Peterson said. The DNR said it is trying to manage to see that it needs no midseason correction. If a correction is needed at a later time, the DNR will make an assessment and then move to catch and release, Peterson said.
Tom Jones, DNR regional fisheries treaty coordinator, said there are “plenty of 2008 female walleyes” to be caught. Jones said that the attempt is to protect more of the male walleyes than the female walleyes.
Peterson said these regulation changes do not represent a one-year solution. He said he hopes that a positive turn-around will be seen in two to three years.
“The issue is providing more robust fisheries for Mille Lacs for the future and having better fishing for the future,” Peterson said.
The DNR has also focused on invasive species and the effects on fish population.
Mille Lacs Lake is also becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable, the DNR believes. This is due, the DNR said, largely to changes in the aquatic community, including the presence of unwanted aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussel, spiny water flea and Eurasian water milfoil.
Jones said despite the declining walleye population, winter walleye fishing was good, which typically suggests good fishing in spring, too.
Howard Lestrud can be reached at [email protected]