Whether 11,000 pounds of walleyes will last Mille Lacs anglers through Labor Day after walleye fishing restarts on the big lake Aug. 11 is unknown. But chances seem good the allocation will be sufficient to carry anglers through the holiday, after which Mille Lacs walleye fishing is closed for the open-water season.
The Department of Natural Resources announced this spring that Mille Lacs walleye fishing would be restricted to catch and release this summer and would conclude for the open-water season no later than the end of fishing Sept. 4 — earlier if the state’s 44,800-pound quota was reached. (“Harvest’’ on Mille Lacs means the estimated number of fish that die after being caught and released.)
To stretch what was widely considered a meager sport-angler allotment, the DNR said in spring it would shut down Mille Lacs walleye fishing July 7-27. But even that hiatus didn’t prove enough. The DNR announced July 21 that sport anglers had exceeded their 44,800-pound quota and that Mille Lacs walleye fishing would not reopen until Aug. 11.
Anglers between that date and the end of fishing Sept. 4, the agency said, would be allowed up to 11,000 pounds of walleyes that were being “borrowed” from future state allotments. This is in addition to 6,800 pounds of walleyes that have to be paid back from last year’s excess harvest, meaning anglers’ Mille Lacs walleye quotas will be reduced by about 6,000 pounds in each of the next three years.
The payback could grow larger if bass and other non-walleye anglers fish Mille Lacs in large numbers, because their incidental walleye catch is included in the sport-angler walleye tally. But DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira said Tuesday that angler visits to the lake dropped markedly after the July 7 shutdown, perhaps indicating that bass and other anglers’ incidental walleye catches won’t significantly weigh against the 11,000-pound quota.
Also regarding Mille Lacs:
• The DNR in late August will survey the lake’s ciscoes, young-of-the-year yellow perch and shiners to assess abundance. It’s believed the hot walleye bite on Mille Lacs last winter and this summer was fueled by a forage-fish shortage, in part perhaps because of the presence of spiny water fleas. Crustaceans, spiny water fleas are essentially large zooplankton that eat the small zooplankton that form the bottom of a lake’s food chain.
• This year and next the DNR will do a Mille Lacs tagging study to determine the size of the lake’s walleye population. The study is done about every six years.
• Uncertain is whether the DNR will allow one walleye to Mille Lacs winter anglers for the 2017-2018 season, which begins Dec. 1, conditions permitting. Last winter one walleye 18-20 inches was allowed. But the winter harvest is counted against the lake’s annual harvest quota, and it contributed to this summer’s small sport-angler allotment.