Mille Lacs walleye reg same as 2013

St. Paul — The DNR’s headline on this week’s press release regarding Lake Mille Lacs fishing regulations might have stated walleye fishing regulations will remain unchanged for this upcoming season, but anglers and other lake interests took notice of a number of changes that are noteworthy regarding the popular mid-Minnesota lake of about 130,000 acres.

First, the walleye bag limit for the second year in a row will be two fish, and again this year the harvest slot will be 18 to 20 inches. It was a given the rules wouldn’t be loosened when the allowable harvest was determined to be 42,900 pounds for state anglers, down from 178,750 pounds of walleyes last year. Again, one fish over 28 inches may be kept. Tribal netters and spearers this year are allowed 17,100 pounds.

The changes this time around are more directed at when one can fish, and also how one might fish, when it comes to northern pike.

For example: Mille Lacs’ famous “night ban,” during which anglers must clear the lake – a walleye harvest-reducing restriction – will kick in the Monday following opening weekend (Monday, May 12), and will continue through Dec. 1, effectively eliminating fishing from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. throughout the open-water season.

At a Mille Lacs “input group” meeting earlier this month, several attendees voiced concerns about lost revenue – primarily via late-night “launches,” if the night ban extension took effect.

But DNR officials said Wednesday the extended ban will reduce the chances of the state’s walleye quota being reached by about 20 percent.

Without it, they estimated about a 34-percent chance that catch-and-release fishing would be required prior to the end of the open-water season.

“That risk was too high for state (Fisheries) managers,” Don Pereira, DNR Fisheries chief, said during a teleconference this week.

While there still are lots of spawning fish in the system, Pereira said, good year-classes have been hard to come by for a number of reasons, ranging from predators to a variety of invasive species.

In setting Mille Lacs fishing regulations, the DNR also sought to address concerns that other fish species, namely smallmouth bass and northern pike, are shaving off walleye year-classes before they can reach their potential. While other factors, too, are part of the DNR’s list of possible explanations for not having a good walleye year-class since 2008, increasing predators numbers is one suspect.

Given that, the DNR will raise the northern pike limit from three to 10 fish. Only one of them may be over 30 inches, according to a DNR press release.

But that’s not all. The pike season will be extended from its current mid-February close to the end of March. And, the northern pike spearing ban will be lifted.

These changes, the DNR says, are one-year experiments.

“Similarly, the smallmouth bass harvest season will be extended and limits relaxed,” the DNR’s press release says. “The smallie season (and largemouth) will open May 10 and be exempt from the catch-and-release regulation that begins in mid-September. This means anglers may harvest smallmouth bass from the opener until the last Sunday in February.”

The bass limit is six fish, of which just one may be over 18 inches. The previous regulation allowed for the keeping of six fish, but there was a protected 17- to 20-inch protected slot, with one over 20 allowed in possession.

Whether or not the looser pike and bass regs mean more fish harvested remains to be seen. During the recent season, creel clerks reported about 1,850 smallmouth bass were harvested, while more than 73,000 smallies were caught and released. The harvest rate was about 2.5 percent. About 1,600 northern pike were harvested, with about 17,500 were released, for a harvest rate of about 8 percent.

Pereira said the populations of both species had in recent years been “increasing pretty dramatically.”

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