Harvest down, catching up on Lake Mille Lacs

Editor

Aitkin, Minn. High catch-and-release rates continued on Lake
Mille Lacs during the second half of June, though angler effort has
dropped since the DNR implemented a new slot limit on the big
lake.

DNR 1837 Treaty Biologist Rick Bruesewitz said on Tuesday, the
first day new harvest figures were available, that during the
second half of June, state anglers invested about 150,000 hours of
fishing effort. That’s about 25 percent below average, he said.

Angler effort has dropped despite catch rates that border on
phenomenal. Walleye anglers are catching 0.62 fish per hour, and
they released 240,000 pounds of walleyes during the 15-day period.
According to past DNR research, the statewide average catch for
walleyes is .12 fish per hour. Mille Lacs anglers currently are
catching them five times faster than that rate.

Preliminary total walleye kill on the lake was projected at
about 30,000 pounds for that period about equally split between
harvest and projected mortality of the 240,000 pounds released,
Bruesewitz said.

That brings the total state walleye harvest for 2001 to 236,000
pounds of walleyes through the end of June. The safe allowable
walleye harvest for state anglers is 310,000 pounds this year. To
curb harvest, the DNR implemented a 16- to 18-inch harvest slot for
walleyes on June 5 and has since added a one over 30 inches trophy
provision.

The mood

Opinions have been mixed on the effect that the new harvest slot
has had on Lake Mille Lacs. One consistent theme is that angler
effort has dropped considerably, especially given the excellent
June walleye bite.

Frequent Outdoor News walleye fishing contributor Ron Anlauf
said the slot limit hasn’t prevented him from fishing the big lake.
He found excellent fishing on Mille Lacs throughout late June, but
acknowledged that he often had the lake to himself, particularly on
weekdays.

Steve Carney, fishing guide and Outdoor News columnist, took
several clients to Lake Mille Lacs throughout June and said they
caught great numbers of fish, but few in the 16- to 18-inch slot.
Though fishing traffic had started to pick up last weekend, he
called the boat landings “a morgue” during much of June. Marine
band radios, which typically rattle with launch and small boat
chatter during a hot June bite, were silent.

“I doubt I’ll spend much more time up there,” he said. “You get
sick of throwing back five-pound walleyes.”

Jerry Riege, hunting and fishing manager at Galyan’s in
Minnetonka and a rabid Mille Lacs angler, echoed the opinions of
Carney and Anlauf. The walleye bite has been excellent, but he’s
seen noticeably fewer boats on the big lake.

“I turned on my radio the other day, and I thought it was
broke,” he said. “I didn’t hear anybody talking until almost
noon.”

On Sunday, at the public access at Garrison, he counted 10
trailers when he went out, and about 20 upon his return. Normally
on a June weekend, he said, “you can’t get near that landing.” Yet
the drop in effort has coincided with one of the best walleye bites
Riege has seen on the lake.

“We caught 23 the other day and we had two in the slots, most of
them are over,” he said. “I went out last week it was dead flat, so
I just ran spots. Everywhere I went, you catch fish. You can’t not
catch fish.”

Businesses

The slot limit, and resulting drop in angling effort, has taken
its toll on resorters and other businesses on the lake. Steve
Johnson, of Johnson’s Portside in Isle, said his pre-Fourth of July
weekend sales were down 25 percent.

“It was definitely down, and that’s been very disheartening to
see,” he said. “The bite is still good; the only complaint we hear
is that people can’t keep them.”

Though the walleye catch rates are high, the keep rate “is
zero,” he said.

“They’ve shut the lake down.”

Kari Hough, owner of Garrison Sports and a launch operator, said
that while fishing effort definitely has dropped, he is encouraging
anglers to take advantage of the excellent bite. He said his bottom
line for May and June was only down 2 to 3 percent.

“We’re enjoying one of the best fishing years I’ve seen,” he
said. “We’re not losing the farm.”

New Band commissioner

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe has announced that Curt Kalk, a
Mille Lacs Band member, will replace Don Wedll as band natural
resources commissioner.

Kalk, a 1981 graduate from the Band’s Nay Ah Shing School, is
the first graduate from that school to become a commissioner for
the Band. According to Band press release, Kalk worked for the
federal government for 13 years, and served in the U.S. Marine
Corps for four years. He most recently worked for the Band DNR as
deputy registrar where he managed all licensing, including boat and
snowmobile licensing, and hunting and fishing permits.

Don Wedll, former Mille Lacs Band natural resource commissioner,
has said he will remain with the Band with responsibilities
emphasizing long-range planning. Wedll led the Band’s efforts to
assert tribal hunting and fishing rights in the 1837 ceded
territory during his 18 years as natural resource commissioner.

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