DNR walleye net catches increase on Mille Lacs

Aitkin, Minn. – While many anglers considered the fishing at
Lake Mille Lacs this season to be poor, there are encouraging signs
on the horizon.

Annual near-shore fall netting turned up 9.8 walleyes per net
weighing 18.7 pounds. That’s compared with last year’s catch,
which, at 7.2 walleyes per net weighing 12.8 pounds, was the lowest
ever.

This year’s catch, however, remains below the 1983 to 2008
median of 14.4 walleyes per net weighing 27.8 pounds.

“We had hoped and expected the catches would go up,” said Rick
Bruesewitz, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Aitkin. “Mainly they
did due to the abundance of some of the younger year-classes moving
in. The 2005, 2006, 2007 year-classes were caught this year a
little more than they had been in previous years.”

Offshore nets produced 23.4 walleyes per net, weighing 36.1
pounds. The median from 1998 to 2008 is 19.9 fish per net weighing
35.9 pounds.

Through September, the total angler kill at Mille Lacs was about
67,000 pounds of walleyes. The kill was lower in 2003 and a little
higher in 2004, “but they are very, very low,” Bruesewitz said.

By comparison, the total kill in 1992 was more than 1 million
pounds of walleyes, and it was between 460,000 and 480,000 pounds
in 2006 and 2007. Open-water anglers totalled 918,000 hours on the
lake this year.

“It was pretty slow fishing, no doubt about it,” Bruesewitz
said.

Angler-effort was lower than expected, too, but that seemed to
be consistent with reports from the rest of the state, he said.

An abundance of forage likely had a lot to do with the tough
fishing, Bruesewitz said.

“We are pretty certain the huge perch hatch had a lot to do with
things early in the season,” he said.

Those perch still were available later on in the year, and there
also was an abundance of young-of-the-year tullibees, he said.

Fall trawling results show perch are less abundant than they
have been in the past few years, but trawl results and anecdotal
reports “shows (tullibees) to be as high as we have ever seen them
before,” Bruesewitz said. “There’s a lot of 4- to 5-inch tullibee
out there right now. That’s a good thing for tullibees. We have
been really struggling with really, really low abundance of
tullibees.”

DNR officials were set to meet on Wednesday of this week with
the Lake Mille Lacs Fisheries Input Group to discuss the results of
this fall’s surveys.

While the DNR still needs to calculate a safe harvest level
estimate, “it’s looking reasonable for keeping the (current)
regulation,” Bruesewitz said. “We have to hedge that with whatever
the results of the safe harvest level estimate come out to be.”

Mille Lacs currently has an 18- to 28-inch protected slot limit.
Anglers are allowed one trophy walleye over 28 inches, and the bag
limit is four fish.

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