For Mille Lacs, the bite goes on
Aitkin, Minn. — The first couple weeks of walleye fishing on Lake Mille Lacs won’t set any records, but the fishing’s been very good indeed, and the walleye kill through May 31 far exceeds that of last year, according to the DNR’s Rick Bruesewitz, fisheries supervisor in Aitkin.
The preliminary estimate of the Mille Lacs walleye take by state-licensed anglers through the end of last month was 60,370 pounds – with a total of just over 100,000 for the season (including winter fishing), Bruesewitz said earlier this week.
“It’s been pretty good fishing,” he said. The catch rates have been much higher than last year; the harvest rate a bit higher. Fishing effort is higher this year, but then again, May was considerably cooler in 2011.
After an opening weekend whose weather might rate near the best of all time, the following two weekends weren’t nearly as fisherman-friendly, instead “fraught with storms and high winds, and rain,” Bruesewitz said.
The state-angler quota this year is 357,500 pounds of walleyes, while the tribal allotment (Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and seven others) was 142,5000. With the tribal netting season mostly complete, their harvest likely will be in the 80,000-pound range.
Given results from last year’s walleye assessments and other information, the protected slot for the species grew this year, to 17 to 28 inches. In the recent past, that slot was 18 to 28 inches.
But state officials said state-angler harvest past the quota was not an option, and opted, with input from Mille Lacs-area interests, to increase the slot.
According to Bruesewitz, the harvest by hook-and-line anglers thus far “puts us within our expectations. Let’s put it this way: So far, so good.”
May was cool enough – and thus, the water temperature low enough – that release mortality (calculated via a formula based in large part on water temperature) was extremely low, he said.
All told, about 322,000 pounds of walleyes were caught and released.
Bruesewitz said that for every two walleyes caught, one was kept; 99,000 were “throw-backs,” he said, and about 48,000 were killed (kept by anglers or considered dead from hooking mortality). Those walleyes tossed back averaged 3.2 to 3.3 pounds. About 7,000 of the released fish were under 13 inches long.
Of note: About 5,000 of the released fish were 17 inches long, fish that last year would’ve fallen into the “keeper” category.
Many of this year’s keepers are from a strong 2008 year-class, Bruesewitz said. The ’07 year-class, too, was pretty good.
“We haven’t had any indication of fishing slipping,” he said, adding that most fishing effort and high catch rates usually occur this month. And, with temperatures rising, the kill attributed to release mortality likely too, will increase.