So far, it’s been a fishing season to remember.
The wettest June on record dampened fishing activity around the state as anglers stayed home. At Lake Mille Lacs, fishing pressure in May was the second-lowest on record — next to last year. Of course, Mille Lacs has its own set of problems, including a tight slot limit, two-fish limit and a night fishing ban.
But fishing and boating activity on other Minnesota lakes also has been down this season.
Gary Barnard thinks he knows where the anglers were.
“On Red Lake,” said Barnard, the Department of Natural Resources area fisheries manager in Bemidji. “It was a hot bite, and the word spread. The landings were full.”
The DNR recorded 90,000 hours of fishing pressure in May on Upper Red — 60 percent more than usual, And anglers harvested a record 63,000 pounds of walleyes. As expected, pressure and harvest dropped in June: anglers kept 23,000 pounds. But the excellent fishing means anglers already have exceeded the walleye harvest target for 2014 of 168,000 pounds.
That’s because they harvested 119,000 pounds last winter, when the fishing also was gangbusters.
“We’re over the target now, but it’s not a hard cap,” Barnard said.
Why was the fishing so good?
“There were lots of fish in that harvestable size, and a very good bite, and with the late ice-out, the fish were still in the shallows. It’s easy pickings.”
The walleyes have dispersed now. “You can still catch some walleyes,” Barnard said.
On June 15, the protected slot, which had been 17 to 26 inches, was broadened to 20 to 26 inches, as scheduled. But the high harvest means the DNR might have to ratchet back harvest next winter. The protected slot last winter was 20 to 26 inches.
“That’s probably off the table this year,” Barnard said.
Meanwhile, things are not as heady on Mille Lacs, where anglers harvested only 2,700 pounds in May, a record low. Normal harvest would be between 15,000 and 70,000 pounds.
Catch rates are down, said Rick Bruesewitz, DNR area fisheries manager, because there’s a large amount of small perch for walleyes to eat.
Operation Dry Water
Another reflection that the state’s 2.3 million boaters have spent less time on the water this season, driven away by frequent rain, wind and high water, occurred last weekend. DNR conservation officers checked for intoxicated boaters under the national Operation Dry Water campaign.
Officers checked 387 boaters — one third the number of last year — and issued no boating under the influence (BUI) citations.
“There were just no boats on the water,” DNR Capt. Greg Salo said. “But don’t let [this year’s] stats fool you; it’s still a big issue for us.”
Statewide, there were 89 BUI arrests made last year and 158 in 2012.