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Mille Lacs walleye limit slashing looms

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON
  • Star Tribune
  • February 23, 2013 - 5:12 PM

Wednesday might be a day that lives in infamy around Lake Mille Lacs.

It's then that Department of Natural Resources fisheries managers will meet with a Mille Lacs citizen advisory group to discuss what likely will be highly restrictive walleye limits this summer on the big lake.

The annual meeting takes on special importance because the DNR has announced that Mille Lacs sport anglers will be limited to half their quota from a year ago, from 357,500 pounds to 178,750.

Chippewa netters also will see their spring fishing quota slashed in half, to 71,250 pounds.

The reason: The walleye population in the 200-square-mile lake has fallen to its lowest level in 40 years, according to DNR surveys.

Last year, Mille Lacs anglers harvested about 310,000 pounds of walleyes, including an estimated 136,000 pounds that died after being caught and released.

How, exactly, the DNR will propose to allow anglers to keep any Mille Lacs walleyes in the coming year and stay within their quota is a matter of intense speculation around the lake.

In past years, the DNR has given the advisory group various harvest options to see which gained the most favor.

Rumored this year is the possibility that the DNR could impose a two-walleye limit with a 2-inch harvest slot, perhaps 18 to 20 inches, 20 to 22 inches, or 22 to 24 inches.

Currently, four walleyes under 17 inches -- a fish size that is very difficult to find in the lake -- are allowed on Mille Lacs. A single trophy walleye longer than 28 inches also can be included in the four-fish limit.

The challenge with allowing larger fish to be kept lies with their weight: An 18-inch Mille Lacs walleye weighs about 2 pounds, with a 20-incher tipping the scales at not quite a pound more.

Even with a two-fish limit, allowing the bigger fish to be kept could mean the 178,750-pound quota would be reached before year's end.

That's why on Wednesday the DNR likely will propose to the input group that various angling-method restrictions also be imposed on the lake in the coming year.

One might be a summerlong ban on night fishing. Others could restrict hook types, or require that barbs on hooks be pinched back, making fish hooking more challenging.

For their part, the Chippewa reportedly are considering possible changes to the way they take fish from Mille Lacs. Last year the bands harvested 80,000 pounds of Mille Lacs walleyes, nearly all by netting during the spring spawn.

Many Mille Lacs anglers blame the nets for the lake's declining walleye numbers. But the DNR says other factors might play roles, including a smallmouth bass population that far exceeds historical norms, more northern pike in the lake and a recent explosion of zebra mussels.

Wednesday evening's meeting with the Mille Lacs Lake Input Group will be held at the Hazelton Township Hall.

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