DNR relaxes walleye rule for Mille Lacs
New protected slot loosens for summer on July 15, then tightens again Dec. 1
By Rob Drieslein
St. Paul Anglers who fish Lake Mille Lacs will be allowed to keep more walleyes under the new protected slot limit announced last week by the Minnesota DNR.
The season will open May 15 with a regulation that will allow anglers to keep four walleyes up to 20 inches, which may include one trophy over 28 inches. Anglers must release all walleyes from 20 to 28 inches.
The rule becomes more liberal on July 15, when anglers have to throw back fish between 22 to 28 inches, with one trophy allowed. That will allow more opportunities for angling harvest in mid-summer, when the bite on Mille Lacs traditionally slows. The size limit then returns to the May 15 requirements on Dec. 1.
Anglers contended with a 17- to 28-inch protected slot on Mille Lacs in 2004. That regulation that kept state harvest and hooking mortality to less than 70,000 pounds in 2003, well below the safe allowable harvest of 400,000 pounds. This year's safe allowable harvest for state anglers is 380,000 pounds.
"This regulation will allow anglers to harvest more fish this year," said John Guenther, DNR director of fish and wildlife. "We will get closer to the 380,000 pounds of walleye (including hooking mortality) allotted to the state."
Eight bands of Minnesota and Wisconsin Ojibwe may take 100,000 pounds of walleyes in 2004. The bulk of the tribal harvest occurs during and just after ice-out via gill nets as the fish spawn.
Although it will allow more harvest, the new slot limit will still protect future fishing opportunities.
"The majority of our spawning stock biomass large, mature fish remains protected under this regulation," said Ron Payer, DNR fisheries chief.
The large number of walleyes hatched in 2002, which will reach 10 to 13 inches this year, should not be harmed under the new regulations, he added.
"If an angler deep-hooks a 10- to 13-inch fish, this regulation allows anglers the flexibility to take that fish home and fry it up," Payer said. "However, we are encouraging anglers to release these smaller fish that are likely to survive."
This year's regulation is similar to special walleye regulations on other popular walleye lakes such as Rainy, Big Sand, and Winnibigoshish.
"This new regulation protects the long-term health of the fishery, allows excellent opportunity for anglers and safeguards economic interests," Payer said. "The decision to expand the regulation was made based on the best biological data, with input from anglers and resort owners."
DNR Fisheries and personnel from the commissioner's office spent two evenings this month hashing through possible regulations for the big lake.
Fishing author and consultant for Proper Economic Resource Management Dick Sternberg said he's generally an advocate of protected slots, though he supported the idea of a 17-to 21-inch protected slot on Mille Lacs this year. He's concerned that allowing harvest under 20 inches could put undue pressure on that 2002 year-class.
"This 2002 year-class is just sitting there, and it looks like those fish could be the future of the lake for quite a few years," he said. "My preference would have been a 17-21 harvest slot and protect those fish a few more years."
The regulation as it stands, however, certainly should mean more harvest for anglers in 2004, he said.
"From a fisherman's standpoint, they got a pretty good deal," he said. "That 22 to 28 for summer and fall definitely sweetens the pot."