Why aren’t you fishing walleyes on Lake Mille Lacs?
Hit Lake Mille Lacs on Wednesday via a launch from Liberty Beach, and our fishing party enjoyed an excellent walleye bite. As Outdoor News has reported since opener, fishing has been very good on the big lake this spring.
Myself and a co-worker, Mark Weber, joined the Minnesota Bound crew and some of its sponsors for an afternoon of slip-bobbering leeches. In just over four hours with guide Chris Kuduk fishing off Dickie’s launch, the 25 people in our party caught 45 walleyes and five perch. I’m guessing 12 to 15 of the walleyes were keepers that fell below the 17- to 28-inch protective slot. The rest provided fabulous catch-and-release fishing fun.
On Thursday, I called Rick Bruesewitz, DNR area Fisheries manager in Aitkin, for an update on fishing trends on the popular lake. Bruesewitz and I go back 15 years bantering about Mille Lacs, but I always enjoy chatting with him. It's especially fun when I can open the conversation with, “Hey, I caught a 261/4-inch and a 25-inch walleye on that lake you manage yesterday!”
Fishing has indeed been good, and creel clerks are encountering happy anglers, Bruesewitz said. Based on population and forage surveys, the DNR expected great fishing on Mille Lacs this spring, and that’s exactly what biologists and creel clerks are observing.
“To be frank, we’re seeing about what we expected,” Bruesewitz said. “What we didn’t expect was maybe the best opener weekend weather ever, but catch rates are what we expected.”
The state walleye quota is 357,500 pounds in 2012, and the DNR is watching harvest very close during this excellent bite. Bruesewitz said the DNR doesn’t have a harvest estimate yet for the first three weeks of open-water fishing, but he expects a report next week. Given the great weather and bite, anglers probably are keeping some fish, but the cool weather may help keep overall harvest down. Why?
Water temperatures remain reasonably cool on Mille Lacs, and that’s good. Released fish are more likely to survive in cooler water, so that keeps hooking mortality lower and in turn, the state’s harvest lower. The state has a formula for calculating the percentage of fish that die from release, and those fish count against the state’s harvest quota. At one point this spring, it looked like warm weather might drive water temperatures up, but that’s moderated, and the DNR is hoping the weather stays cool as long as possible.
“Temperatures have stayed down, and that keeps mortality down,” Bruesewitz said. “Hooking mortality is not an issue at these temperatures.”
Back in 2000-01, DNR biologists and anglers worried about “skinny walleyes” in Mille Lacs. Terribly low forage had walleyes snapping at just about any bait that season, but headlines weren’t particularly upbeat about the health of the fishery. In contrast, all the walleyes we caught Wednesday looked anything but skinny.
Bruesewitz said DNR observations are consistent with what we saw. The 2011 year-class of perch – a key walleye forage – were down and ran a little smaller, too. Mid-sized walleyes, say 20- to 22-inchers, feed heavily on those young perch, so fish in that range have been working a little harder for a meal this year. Bigger walleyes have a wider range of critters they can consume, so they’re looking fit.
By the way, the Lake Mille Lacs night ban comes off at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, June 11. Given the great fishing this spring, here’s betting the launches will be booked that evening.
The lake’s clear water usually helps the night bite. Bruesewitz said. Secchi readings have been as high as 14 to 22 feet earlier this spring, but were at 10.5 feet the middle of this week. Heavy rains resulting in fresh water and nutrients flushing into the system may have reduced clarity somewhat. Even so, historically speaking, that’s very clear water – for Mille Lacs and most other lakes.
Until the DNR says otherwise, I’m not worrying about any quota, and neither should you. I’ll get my kids out there soon, and I encourage other anglers to enjoy the excellent catch-rates on Mille Lacs this spring.
Special thanks to the Minnesota Bound team for hosting a fine day on the water.