George Liddle is a bass-fishing fanatic.

“I’ve fished bass all over the country, and I’ve not found anywhere the quality of smallmouth fishing as on Lake Mille Lacs,’’ he said. “It’s a world-class fishery.’’

Which is why Liddle and others are fighting against a relaxation of bass-fishing regulations on Mille Lacs this year to boost harvest.

The new regulation is a 17- to 20-inch protected slot, with a possession limit of six, with one longer than 20 inches allowed. Previously all smallmouth less than 21 inches had to be released, and the possession limit was one.

Last week, Liddle and friends launched a website ( where he is collecting signatures on a petition urging the repeal of the new regulations.

“So far we have 450 people who have signed it, and more than 18,000 views of the site,’’ said Liddle, a boat company representative who has a cabin near Onamia and also lives in Arkansas. “Minnesota Bound” host Ron Schara and fishing legend Al Linder are among those who have signed.

“I don’t like the idea of risking losing or reducing what is a classic smallmouth fishery,’’ Schara said.

Liddle said he fears anglers on fishing launches will target smallmouth bass to keep for a meal because of this year’s tight walleye regulations (only walleyes 18 to 20 inches, and one longer than 28 inches, can be kept, with a two-fish bag limit).

“Do the math,’’ Liddle said. “You have 25 people [on a launch] keep six bass each, and you do that three times a day, per boat. They could remove thousands upon thousands of fish in a couple of months. That would destroy the smallmouth fishing; it would be a travesty.’’

Not so, said Rick Bruesewitz, Department of Natural Resources area fisheries supervisor.

“We’re managing Mille Lacs primarily as a walleye fishery,’’ he said. “And the 17- to 20-inch protected slot is not insignificant. Right now, there’s basically no [bass] harvest. So even with a six-fish limit, it won’t decimate the population.’’

Bruesewitz noted the statewide bass limit is six. And, he said, the DNR will monitor bass harvest through the summer creel survey.

Bruesewitz also believes the explosion of the smallmouth population occurred not because of the tight regulations, but because of habitat changes on the lake. The DNR hopes increasing the smallmouth harvest will help the walleye population, which has been declining.

Finally, ice departs

Nearly all northern Minnesota lakes are ice-free, but not before some records fell. The ice on Lake Mille Lacs and Pelican Lake at Orr didn’t disappear until May 16, both records. Ice departed lakes Vermilion, Pokegame and Winnibigoshish on Friday, shy of records.