Mille Lacs ice anglers get one-walleye limit
St. Paul — Following an open-water walleye-fishing season on one of Minnesota’s most popular lakes during which no walleyes could be kept, state DNR officials announced last week that the walleye bag during this year’s ice season on Lake Mille Lacs would be one fish.
However, the agency said, that one walleye must fit within a 19- to 21-inch slot.
But the ability for anglers to keep any fish is positive news to a fishing community that faced a catch-and-release walleye season this year until early September – when walleye fishing was eliminated after state anglers flew past this year’s quota of 28,600 pounds, a total negotiated with 1837 Treaty Indian bands.
The winter season begins Dec. 1 and ends Feb. 26.
“The winter season regulation enables Mille Lacs anglers to catch and keep walleyes while providing necessary fish conservation and support to the Mille Lacs-area community,” said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief, in a press release.
The DNR says state officials met Nov. 1 with tribal leaders to evaluate the status of the walleye population following completion of the 2015-16 fishing season. According to the release: “The key conservation goal of conserving the abundant 2013 year-class was achieved, with minimal fishing mortality occurring during the past year and key population benchmarks successfully met. Those factors combined to support a modest winter harvest for Mille Lacs Lake walleyes.”
Brad Parsons, DNR regional fisheries manager, said the harvest slot was chosen, too, to protect those promising 2013 walleyes. Those fish shouldn’t quite be reaching 19 inches this winter, he said.
Parsons also said that fall assessments showed decent numbers of larger fish – the ones that reproduce.
“We didn’t see a large decline in spawning stock biomass,” he said.
Last winter, Mille Lacs anglers harvested about 1,600 pounds of walleyes. But it could be much higher, Parsons said, perhaps pushing the 5,000-pound mark. But that depends on a lot of things, including how soon anglers are able to access Mille Lacs ice. Based on fall thus far, that could come later than usual.
But when ice does arrive, and anglers do begin fishing for Mille Lacs walleyes again, they might be in for some decent fishing.
“We expect a good bite,” Parsons said. “We expect fishing to be good.”
Whether this summer’s walleye overage will affect future negotiations with bands that fish Mille Lacs remains to be seen. According to the DNR, state anglers exceeded that allowed take by about 19,000 pounds. All of the walleye kill was via hooking mortality, an estimate of the number of fish that die upon release during the open-water season. Officials say such deaths are rare during the winter season. High water temperatures in summer stress fish and results in the delayed mortality, they say.
A spokesperson for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission said earlier this week that bands likely wouldn’t comment on the matter of the state walleye overage until a later date.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to have anything to say until the process plays out,” said Charlie Rasmussen, a GLFWC communications specialist. “It’s premature for the tribes to have comment.”
That said, other sources have indicated the overage could have some bearing on next year’s open-water quota.
While an “outside observers” has been allowed at previous meetings of tribal and state officials, there was no such representative at last week’s meeting. Outgoing state Rep. Tom Hackbarth (he was defeated in a primary earlier this year) indicated he would attend, but did not make it.
Winter pike regs
According to the DNR, northern pike will provide anglers and darkhouse spearers with additional opportunity to harvest fish on Mille Lacs this winter.
Like last winter, ice anglers and spearers can keep up to five fish with one longer than 30 inches.
However, in order to keep the one northern pike longer than 30 inches, anglers and spearers must have caught or speared two northern pike shorter than 30 inches and have both smaller fish in immediate possession.