Walleye limit to one on Mille Lacs

Isle, Minn. — The reaction has been mixed in the wake of the Minnesota DNR announcing fishing regulations for the coming season on Lake Mille Lacs, where a night-fishing ban will be in place again this summer and the walleye limit was halved to one fish.

While there’s plenty of outrage – most of it directed at both the netting of walleyes during the spring spawning period by Native Americans and the management of the fishery by the Minnesota DNR – others, including many in the local business community, have tried to maintain a positive outlook.

“It’s so much gloom and doom right now,” said Suzy Fisher, of Fisher’s Resort on Malmo Bay. “I think people need to sit down and remember how much fun fishing is. People just want to go fishing. … Everything isn’t all rosy and great, but you have to try to push what you’ve got.”

Fisher’s Resort is one of many attempting to diversify their resorts beyond fishing.

“Instead of investing in another launch right now, it would be wise to invest in the beach, things like that,” Fisher said, nothing that her resort has tried to cater much more to families. “We’re trying to roll with the punches and improve areas of the resort that the public is demanding. I think the mindset of the public is changing, too. There’s a lot more catch-and-release people than you might think. We’re trying to keep our chin up.”

That was an attitude echoed by Terry McQuoid, of McQuoid’s Inn in Isle. He noted the lake is still a destination for smallmouth bass, muskie, and northern pike anglers, and it still has lots of big walleyes swimming around in it. Like most, he wasn’t surprised by the stricter regulations.

“It was pretty much what I expected,” McQuoid said. “I think it’s what needs to be. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do to get the fishery strong.”

McQuoid said the DNR would be criticized no matter what move it made. If anything, the agency should have started tightening the rules sooner than it did, he said, suggesting that if it had, it would have caught no less heat but perhaps the lake would be closer to recovery.

“Too many people forget, we’ve gone through this many times before,” he said. “When I was guiding full-time in the late 70s, early 80s – ‘back in the good old days’ – well, we might get three or four bites the whole day. That was a hell of a lot tougher than what we have right now. We’re catching 20 to 50 walleyes every trip. Some are going to be too small and some are going to be too big. But people will have fun. If you are going strictly for the meat, getting them at the market would be a lot cheaper.”

McQuoid said those who chose to abandon the lake and its resorts in response to tighter regulations did so about two years ago. His business has done OK the past few years.

“We were down a little bit last year and a lot of it was from the winter,” he said. “It was single-digits down. That’s nothing bad. This year, we’re down because of a lack of snow. Snowmobilers were nonexistent. There again, that’s just part of Mother Nature. … We have lost a few diehard fishermen. But we are plumb full in the summer. People are still coming here. It’s still one of the best places to go in Minnesota for a week vacation.”

Appeldoorn’s Sunset Bay Resort is another resort that has diversified its clientele, said Paul Waldowski, director of operations.

The resort had purchased another launch boat but has shifted that extra boat’s purpose to giving cruises on the lake.

“It has a bar on the boat,” Waldowski said. “We will set that up more for entertaining. We had been using it as a launch. They have to pay for themselves somehow. We’re just trying to do our best to position ourselves for the next four or five years. You can sit here and complain and point fingers, but nothing’s going to change, so we have to make the best of it.”

McQuoid was hopeful about the success of the 2013 year-class of walleyes, which was one of the best Mille Lacs walleye hatches on record.

“People were catching plenty of those fish this past winter,” McQuoid said. “We just won’t be able to keep them. Within the next couple of years, we are going to have spectacular fishing.”

Fisher was also optimistic about those walleyes.

“We are catching a lot of them,” she said. “If this is what it takes to protect them, then it’s what we have to do. Hopefully, it’s worth the sacrifice.”

 

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