If management of Mille Lacs walleyes this year can be considered an experiment — and in many ways it can — the results are in.
Not results about whether the relatively few small (mostly male) walleyes are recovering in the big lake. Nor results shedding light on whether Mille Lacs’ overall walleye population is becoming more balanced, with fewer large fish compared to those under 17 inches, or even compared to walleyes 18-20 inches, the legal slot this year, with a limit of two.
No, this has been a different kind of experiment, more of a sociological exercise that determined — however unintentionally — whether Minnesota walleye anglers really are so enamored with Mille Lacs that they will fish the lake even if they (a) have little chance of catching a walleye they can take home, especially if (b) they have options to fish other lakes or rivers where they can catch walleyes to eat.
Put another way, the experiment asked this question: Just how dumb are Mille Lacs walleye anglers?
Turns out the answer is, “Not very.”
The evidence has been apparent nearly every day this summer on the lake and around it — in area bait shops, gas stations and especially resorts.
“My business is down 100 percent during the weekdays … not 80, not 90, 100 percent,” Greg Thomas of Gregory’s Resort recently told the Mille Lacs Messenger.
Also from that newspaper:
“Launch service business is definitely down,” said Tina Chapman, executive director of Mille Lacs Area Tourism. “People using public accesses and private launch sites are down, too. You can see that by the lack of traffic on the lake.”
While it’s true the last straw for Mille Lacs this year was what is commonly referred to around the lake as the “2 and 2” deal — meaning the lakes two-walleye limit and 2-inch (18-20) slot — the bigger issue by far has been the lack of political leadership among state and tribal leaders over the past dozen years or so, since the Chippewa prevailed 5-4 in the U.S. Supreme Court over off-reservation hunting and fishing rights.
Each should have known, or should have learned in the intervening years, that even the states’ premier walleye lake can’t satisfy indefinitely the many competing interests now looking to benefit from it.
Meaning area businesses, sport anglers, the Chippewa — in any order a person wants to arrange them.
Blame the DNR? Go ahead. But the agency was dealt an impossible hand and can’t win. Throw in high gas prices. The late ice-out. Whatever. They’re all minor issues.
Here’s the problem:
Absent state and national leaders with equal parts backbone, knowledge and passion, resources such as Mille Lacs — and the boundary waters and the state’s grasslands and wetlands, among many others — will over time become increasingly fought over and, ultimately, depleted.
Mille Lacs and those who depend on it will be only the first in a long line of people to lose out.