Outdoor Insights on Lake Mille Lacs walleyes

Since we’ve reached somewhat of a lull in the Lake Mille Lacs saga that’s filled Outdoor News and other newspaper pages, not to mention segments on TV news broadcasts, and since everyone with any so-called interest in Mille Lacs has become an expert in all phases of the lake, its fish, and how to manage those fish, perhaps now’s a good time to reflect just a bit.

To recap, state-licensed anglers, coming dangerously close to reaching a walleye quota established early this year, were told they couldn’t fish for their favorite species come Aug. 3. But, anglers were told, there remain many other great options – such as muskies and smallies – in the expansive central-Minnesota lake. All that media attention got Gov. Dayton’s attention, which in turn garnered even more media attention, and suddenly a story that’s actually played out for years became the local fashion for Twin Cities media types. Dayton, swayed by Mille Lacs-area claims of DNR “mismanagement” and general citizen discontent, figuratively tossed a few state fish biologists at least near, if not beneath, a passing bus, and called for a special session of the Legislature to aid a lake economy in trouble, potentially brought about by state officials, aka fish managers.

Changes initiated most likely at the top (Dayton) mean management at least for now in some ways will be altered. They will probably include an on-site research station and walleye stocking, even though most reputable scientists are in agreement that stocking is a waste of money. In other words, chances are great it won’t help the situation.

In the meantime, opinions regarding the Mille Lacs walleye “fix” from the general public run from intriguing to ignorant, though at times like these, we’re told, “everything is on the table.” A number of things have struck me as we’ve waded through this situation. 

I’ve been around this rodeo for a number of years now, and endured, for lack of a better word, the Mille Lacs Input Group meetings that run the gamut from enlightening to uncomfortable, to downright depressing. And one thing that is brought up year after year is the matter of tribal netting/spearing of Mille Lacs walleyes. State officials point to their data and say, without question, that those nets and spears aren’t at the heart of the matter regarding the struggles of the walleyes – that lots of fish are hatched but that few, beyond the 2013 year-class, have survived past their first or second years of life. Why? That’s the great unknown.

I’ll not offer my opinions, necessarily, on who I believe is right, who’s wrong, why, the possible remedies, and such. Let’s leave it at this: There’s lots of blame to go around.

What I will say is, having watched and listened as Mille Lacs business folks have brought their concerns to DNR officials each late winter, prior to the setting of fishing regulations, I know what’s bothering them. They practically beg the DNR to at least discuss tribal netting/spearing, which has been for all intents and purposes off-limits for a while now. Thus, the DNR “doesn’t listen.” So when Gov. Dayton first directs fish-management personnel changes for the lake because the DNR “doesn’t listen,” then cuts off a public-meeting speaker (Outdoor News columnist Joe Fellegy) who raises that element of the matter – subsequent playing of the “race card” by the governor aside – I find it rather disingenuous. 

While the special session (to fund economic recovery in the area) now seems in peril (see Joe Albert’s better explanation on the front page of issue 34), walleye stocking is likely. Makes me sometimes wonder why we have state fisheries researchers in the first place.

Categories: News, Walleye

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