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The DNR also announced Tuesday that Mille Lacs smallmouth bass and northern pike regulations will be liberalized this season, in part as a way to entice anglers to keep coming to the lake.
Last year, the smallmouth bass limit was one over 21 inches. Beginning with the bass opener in late May, the limit will be six, with a protected slot of 17 to 20 inches (only one smallmouth bass can exceed 20 inches).
Similarly, a larger Mille Lacs northern pike harvest will be encouraged by a new 33- to 40-inch protected slot (with one fish allowed over 40 inches in a three-fish limit) — a big change from the 27- to 40-inch protected slot that regulated northern pike takings on the lake a year ago.
Thurmer believes the changes will do little to mitigate the effect on resort and bait shop owners, among other Mille Lacs area businesses.
“The reputation and tourism that Mille Lacs has had all of these years is because of walleyes, not northerns and smallmouth bass,” he said. “It will in no way replace the business we lose.”
Implicit in the new Mille Lacs walleye regulations are harvest projections the DNR developed based on past years’ angling pressure and catch rates.
If the coming year proves to be an outlier to those estimates — if the walleye bite is either faster or slower than projected, for example — the DNR might have to alter its regulations, making them more liberal or still more restrictive.
A worst-case scenario, for example, would unfold if a hot walleye bite this summer puts too many 18-20-inch walleyes in anglers’ boats, forcing the DNR to implement more restrictions to avoid exceeding the safe-harvest quota.
But even that move would be problematic, because the DNR includes an estimated 100,000 pounds of “post-release mortality” in the 178,500-pound sport-fishing quota.
Meaning even a total catch-and-release walleye fishery would result in a continued “harvest.”
Still, Suzy Fisher of Fisher’s Resort near Isle remains hopeful.
“The bite is expected to be very good this year,” she said. “I’ve only had a few people say they’re not coming because of the regulations.’’