Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Mille Lacs slot to loosen on July 15

Editor

Aitkin, Minn. The walleye protected slot on Lake Mille Lacs will
shrink next week, providing a silver lining for anglers who
suffered through a tough spring bite on the big lake.

Beginning July 15, anglers may keep walleyes up to 22 inches,
with one trophy over 28 inches in the four-fish limit. All walleyes
from 22 to 28 inches must be released. That new rule is two inches
looser than the 20- to 28-inch protected slot that has existed
since the May 15 fishing opener.

Total state harvest on Lake Mille Lacs from the May fishing
opener through June 15 totaled just 38,701 pounds, according to
Rick Bruesewitz, the DNR’s 1837 Treaty biologist in Aitkin. That
compares to a total harvest of 67,000 pounds for all of 2003.

While catch rates have been low, Bruesewitz said, the report
brightens slightly when you consider total catch for that time
period 170,000 pounds of walleye. Anglers have released the bulk of
that to comply with the treaty harvest regulations.

Hooking mortality for that time period was 2,200 pounds. That
tally would have been larger had the agency used the previous
estimate of 6 percent for small fish and 10 percent for larger fish
in calculating the released fish mortality.

In 2004, for the first time, the agency is applying a 2 percent
release mortality for the months of May and June. An extensive
release mortality study on the big lake in 2003 produced that
figure, and the continuing study in 2004 is showing similar
results, Bruesewitz said.

“Because we’re using that number, I’m reporting 2,200 pounds (of
hooking mortality) instead of nearly 7,000 pounds,” Bruesewitz
noted.

Bruesewitz attributed the slow catch and harvest in 2004 to two
factors. First, extreme weather swings and cool temperatures this
spring produced an inconsistent, difficult-to-pattern walleye bite.
A sizable chunk of the state’s walleye harvest on Mille Lacs each
year occurs during the first six weeks of the season.

“Weather-wise, it’s almost like we skipped June,” he said.

The second factor continues to be the abundance of forage,
particularly yellow perch from the 2002 and 2003 year-classes. The
ample amount of natural foods means anglers pose virtually no
chance of topping the state’s 380,000-pound quota for 2004.

Bruesewitz discounted reports of a lack of “slot fish” in the
lake. He said the year-class profiles show there are many fish in
the 18- to 20-inch range, as well as 20s and 21s that will be fair
game beginning July 15.

“I don’t believe it’s a lack of slot fish,” he said. “There
simply are a lot of fish that aren’t being caught.”

Tribal walleye harvest this spring totaled 72,300 pounds. In
recent years, the bands also have harvested a couple thousand
pounds of walleyes in the fall.

On Dec. 1, the slot will revert to four walleyes up to 20 inches
with one over 28 inches in the four-fish limit. The agency
currently has no plans to deviate from that framework despite the
low harvest on the lake thus far in 2004.

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