Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mille Lacs 2014

Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota
It's time to comment on the current changes to the fishing regulations on my favorite fishing lake Mille Lacs.  Those who follow this blog know that I love fishing Mille Lacs for walleyes from May's opener to the end of February.  I would say that fishing has been pretty good the last few years with plenty of nice walleyes caught and like any lake it can have it's good days and bad days but on average I can't complain.  Unfortunately there are significant issues with the walleye population and it perplexes guys like myself that have fished the lake for over 30 years and have seen the changes.  Since the Supreme Court ruling in the late 1990's allowing the Ojibwe to harvest walleye for substance, the State of Minnesota has allowed them to gill net walleyes prior to the spawn.  Right or wrong this has set in motion a number of yearly adjustments in "safe allowable harvest" numbers, ever changing slot limits, and bag limit restrictions.  For me the last 3 - 4 years has been exceptional for consistent catches of nice walleyes in the 20" - 28" range yet these fish looked like the were starving.  While the perch fishing disappeared, days of 30 to 50 fish on a nice June day were not uncommon.  Once called "The home of the quarter pounder" few fish under 20" came in the boat for me during the last 2 years.  With the fisherman's slot at 16" - 20" and the nets targeting the same fish, it seemed inevitable.  Add to the fact that the explosion of both smallmouth bass and now northern pike just added to the predator base, the fish had ate itself out of house and home.  Now, personally I don't buy all of this yet I'm not in charge.  So we have a crisis, to many big walleyes, pike, and smallmouth....not enough forage and no survival of significance for young walleyes, perch, or tullibees for the future.  The DNR's strategy for 2014 is to significantly lower the allowable harvest, increase the limits of northern pike from 3 to 10, open up the slot limit for smallmouth, and institute a year long night fishing ban from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM.  In addition the bag limit stays the same as last year which is 2 walleyes in the 18" - 20" slot.  Top this off with what turned out to be a terrible ice fishing season (the DNR claims only 450# of walleyes harvested from Dec 1 - Feb 23) has created a tenuous situation for the business's that rely on fishing such as the bait shops and resorts.  Some are much more vocal while others are trying to figure out how to survive by creating opportunities.  It's definitely not easy.  For the DNR's take on the lake you can check out this link:
Mille Lacs Lake.  Also, the DNR in an attempt to soften the issue has started a newsletter called Hooked on Mille Lacs which can be accessed by clicking on the link.  Interesting.

Big Head, Little Body ( the fish, not me!)

So what do I really think?  First and foremost, no lake in Minnesota has been able to be managed while netting is present, not Red Lake, not Lake of the Woods, not Leech Lake.  Even if a certain allowable harvest is permitted, taking these fish prior to spawn only reduces the hatched biomass which is contrary to what the DNR claims as they say has more than enough spawning females.  It is well known that the lake is full of young fish, the perch hatch is the best in years.  This coincides with the complete shutdown of the fall bite as the fish had plenty to eat, were fat as pigs, and didn't need to chase down lures.  So what happened in 2013.......the ice was still covering the lake on opener, no significant netting was done on the lake.  Maybe it's too easy to assume yet something has changed.  Another interesting fact is that the Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources have looked at walleye populations and have determined that the 18" - 21" fish are the ideal spawning size with the highest success rate.  These are the exact fish that are targeted by the nets and is also represented on the current slot size fish we are allowed to keep.  The Minnesota DNR does not agree yet on the "Blue Ribbon Panel" to study the issue is a biologist from Ontario, go figure.  I am in agreement with the smallmouth regs going back to where they were.  Quite honestly a 16 inch smallmouth is delicious.  As far as the northern limits going to 10, I guess it opens up a lot of opportunities if you like them and know how to take out the Y bones.  The lake is getting clearer which definitely can affect fish populations as zebra mussels haven't help.  Whatever the changes, it certain that the good old days of fishing Mille Lacs, especially in the late 1980's thru 2006 may remain as such, good old days.  Lets hope not.

An interesting parallel to our issues at Mille Lacs is the early King Salmon run on the Kenai River.  Because of the low return population of these magnificent fish, the first run which occurs in June has been closed to any fishing.  Guiding on the Lower Kenai River consists of 3 major salmon runs, the early Kings in June, the 2nd run of Kings in July, and the first run of Silver Salmon in August. For my 2 friends on the Kenai who make their living as guides, both Jeff King and Keith Holtan understand the measures taken yet have a common concern for netting that has a huge effect on the returning population.  I guess we all have our agenda and thoughts.....ah to be King for a day!  Either way you will see the results of both fisheries as we document our experiences.  You can see Jeff's experiences to the left on Mile 14.  The weather is finally warming up as opener is just 4 weeks away, I think we'll be on the lake for sure!


Beaver Creek Cabins & Guide Service said...

The Minnesota DNR and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are the watchdogs/stewards of the resource. Looks like they've failed both of us.

As Jeff would say, "let them manage the mosquito population. If they did, they'd kill every one of them."


Anonymous said...

Look this is what is happening all over wis and minn. First if you remember 40 years ago a man and his son could hunt almost everywhere. Now if you don't own it you had better stay off. Land was selling for 200.00 an acre Ok then the Big Rack stuff started now the land is 4 to 6 thousand an acre and only the RICH HAVE LAND and we have lots of deer in those unhuntable areas. Fishing 40 years ago we could rent a boat for 3.00 a day and caught tons of fish. Today with the Bass boats and 200 hp motors and 400.00 rods and 10.00 for a rapala Oh did I mention that we now have to pay at most landing just to put your boat in, ya this is the future of fishing too its going to be a rich sport and you can only do it if your rich WHAT HAPPENED TO THE MIDDLE CLASS

Dave Anderson said...

Damn good question Anonymous! No need to stay anonymous as most agree with you.

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