Opening weekend fishing pressure on Mille Lacs appeared relatively light, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Still, the lake has seen considerable activity in recent weeks, as state fisheries managers tag walleyes and northern pike as part of an ongoing population study, and Chippewa band members close in on their 17,100-pound walleye quota.
Just before the opener, the bands had taken 12,608 pounds of Mille Lacs walleyes. Spearing accounted for a larger percentage of that harvest than in previous years, resulting, in some cases, in a larger average size of walleyes taken, compared to years when the bands’ harvest was almost exclusively by net.
Eight Chippewa bands harvest fish from Mille Lacs, and this year, due to the reduced allocation for the bands and sport anglers alike, some bands had individual quotas of only 1,000 pounds.
May 3 was a particularly good night for the Chippewa, when they registered a total harvest of about 3,000 pounds.
By contrast, that same night was not especially productive for DNR fisheries technicians who attempted to capture walleyes in gill nets and by electrofishing.
“We only tagged 860 fish that night,’’ said DNR regional treaty coordinator Tom Jones. By contrast, on May 7, DNR workers tagged 3,000 walleyes and northern pike.
Similar DNR studies were conducted on Mille Lacs in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008 and last year.
By collecting and tagging a certain number of northerns and walleyes in early May, then recapturing a percentage of the tagged fish at the end of the month, the DNR can estimate how many of the fish are in the lake.
Last year, the lake’s walleye count was only 350,000, compared to 800,000 estimated in earlier surveys.
The DNR doesn’t estimate the number of anglers on Mille Lacs on opening weekend alone. Instead, in a few weeks, the agency will issue fishing pressure and harvest estimates for the entire month of May.
“We saw more activity around Mille Lacs this opener than we did last year, but we were iced over last year,’’ said Mille Lacs large lake specialist Eric Jensen.
“I don’t know if people were reacting to the late ice-out, the regulation [18- to 20-inch walleye harvest slot], the lower water temperature or the weather.’’