Tighter regs on tap for Mille Lacs

Garrison, Minn. — Small fish friendly.

That’s the name of the walleye game at Lake Mille Lacs this year, according to DNR fisheries managers who met last week at a public meeting that included members of the Mille Lacs Fisheries Input Group and other citizens.

The agency outlined a number of options for reducing the walleye harvest on Mille Lacs this summer. But whatever the choice, anglers only will be able to keep walleyes that fall within a small window.

Possibilities include harvest slots of 17 to 19 inches; 18 to 20 inches; or 19 to 21 inches. Fisheries officials will make a recommendation this week to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, who will make the final decision. An 18- to 20-inch harvest slot – perhaps with a two-walleye limit early in the year, and a four-walleye limit later – seemed to draw the most support at the meeting.

More restrictive regulations are necessary to keep the state within a safe harvest level – 178,500 pounds of walleyes – that is half of last year. The 2013 quota for the eight Chippewa bands – 71,500 pounds – also is half of last year.

“We really didn’t anticipate such a steep drop in walleye abundance this year,” said Dirk Peterson, DNR Fisheries Section chief.

Indeed, test nets in 2012 showed the Mille Lacs walleye population at the lowest level in 40 years. Officials are especially concerned about the number of male walleyes in the 14- to 18-inch range. They say it’s especially important to protect the 2008 year-class of walleyes. Those fish are 16 to 17 inches in length.

“We really don’t want to harvest these,” said Tom Jones, DNR treaty coordinator. “This is the last good year-class of males in the chute right now, and we don’t want to knock them down until we know we’ve got something else coming along.”

In addition to narrow slots, which still may result in the state exceeding its safe harvest level, officials floated a number of possibilities that would further reduce harvest. Among them: requiring the use of circle hooks; curtailing the use of live bait; and reworking the ban on night fishing.

While members of the input group weren’t keen on any such options, they were especially opposed to banning night fishing.

Jones said the agency wants to avoid making midseason regulation changes, which could result in catch-and-release-only fishing.

The DNR also is proposing new regulations for pike and smallmouth bass aimed at increasing the harvest of those two species.

Anglers would have to throw back smallies between 17 and 20 inches, but otherwise could keep six smallies. Pike regs also would be less restrictive, as anglers would have to throw back fish between 36 and 40 inches.

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