Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Mille Lacs ‘safe harvest’ up; state quota takes dip

Aitkin, Minn. – State anglers harvested just over one-fourth of
last year’s allocation of Mille Lacs walleyes, and they’ll have a
similar allocation – and likely similar regulations – this year,
according to the DNR.

The DNR and tribes have agreed to a “safe harvest level” for the
popular central Minnesota lake of 544,000 pounds of walleyes, up
slightly from 541,000 pounds last year. The state’s allocation
drops from 414,500 pounds to 411,500 pounds. Meanwhile, the eight
Ojibwe bands in the 1837 Treaty area that net walleyes from the
lake may keep 132,500 pounds of fish, up from 126,500 pounds last
year.

According to DNR records, state anglers also tossed back about
470,000 pounds of walleyes, most in the 18- to 28-inch protected
slot. Meanwhile, state officials say they hope to keep fishing
regulations similar to the past two years – the slot, with a
four-fish limit.

“It’s in the interest of the goals of the (Mille Lacs) advisory
committee to keep the regulations similar, if not the same,” said
Dirk Peterson, acting Fisheries chief for the DNR.

For the first time since modern co-management of the lake began,
the tribes that net Mille Lacs – Mille Lacs and Fond du Lac in
Minnesota, and St. Croix, Red Cliff, Lac du Flambeau, Mole Lake,
Lac Courte Orielles, and Bad River in Wisconsin – was more than
100,000 pounds of walleyes.

The state take of 141,000 pounds included about 26,000 pounds of
“hooking mortality.” That left about 115,000 pounds of walleyes
that met frying pans.

Tom Jones, Mille Lacs’ large lake specialist for the DNR, said
10 to 20 percent hooking mortality is considered acceptable (last
year it was about 19 percent), although some years – with lots of
large fish in the population – hooking mortality has exceeded
harvest.

Each band is awarded a portion of the tribal harvest, Jones
said. If a band reaches its quota, its share increases the
following year. Two bands reached their quotas, thus the tribal
increase of 6,000 pounds this year, he said. From 2002 until 2007,
the bands’ allocation was 100,000 pounds; the current system began
in 2008.

“We hope to get to where they don’t reach the quota, and it
remains stable,” he said.

Regarding stability, Jones also says the department hopes to
continue a recent trend of consistent state-angler fishing
regulations for the lake, even though state anglers have been far
below their allocation the past two years (75 percent below
allocation in 2008 and 66 percent below last year).

He expects the open-water bite to improve this spring, and says
anglers have told the department they dislike mid-season
adjustments.

“Fishing wasn’t fantastic last year,” Jones said.

Part of the reason was forage-related, he said. Currently, there
are lots of perch and tullibees in the system, though it appears
most tullibees are large enough that they’re feeding mainly large
walleyes. (High tullibee numbers also are thought to have led to a
drop in muskie-fishing success.)

“The big (walleyes) are in very good shape,” Jones said. “The
little fish are a little skinny.”

Winter walleye fishing on the 130,000-acre lake started out
strong, he said, but has since slowed. Winter fishing success
usually is a precursor to what anglers might find in the
spring.

The Mille Lacs Fisheries Input Group will meet later this month
so that the DNR might take input regarding upcoming fishing
regulations for 2010, but Jones says the department would like to
keep the rules consistent.

“Businesses (that serve Mille Lacs) are split; some like (the
regulation), some don’t,” he said. “But the vast majority of
anglers we talk to tell us how much they like it. A change in
mid-year is frustrating for most people, and we’re really trying to
avoid that.

“We’re pretty happy with where we are right now.”

Jones said consistent regulations also make it easier for
researchers to examine the effects of those regulations. The
state’s allocation of walleyes topped out at 500,000 pounds in
2006. A level of 307,500 in 2008 was the lowest since 300,000
pounds in 2000.

Mille Lacs etc.

Jones said northern pike in Mille Lacs are doing well, and have
pulled off good recent year-classes. He said the ’09 catch of pike
was the highest the department has recorded.

There’s a 24- to 36-inch protected slot for Mille Lacs pike, and
a three-fish limit. The safe harvest level for northern pike is
25,000 pounds, the same as last year.

While smallmouth populations are faring well, Jones says there’s
increasing interest among anglers with the lake’s largemouths.

Jones said the zebra mussel count in the lake grew this year,
too, to about 4.4 per square foot, a number 10 times greater than
last year and 5,000 times more than 2005. Still, he says, that’s a
rather slow increase compared to some Minnesota lakes where the
exotic invader now exists.

Given the relative slow increase in “zebe” numbers, it might be
easier to monitor the effects of the filter feeder, expected to
make the lake’s water more clear, he said.

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