Anderson: Anglers and businesses on Mille Lacs deserve a break from DNR

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 13, 2014 - 12:18 PM
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A fishing boat cruised on Wahkon Bay, Lake Mille Lacs in the afternoon sun on May 22. Anglers aren't showing up this summer because of restrictions, including boats off the lake by 10 p.m. according to a night fishing ban imposed by the DNR.

 MILLE LACS -- The time is long since past that businesses around this great lake catch a break from the Department of Natural Resources. Gov. Mark Dayton could make this happen. Because what’s occurring here is every bit the emergency that floods have posed in other parts of the state. And Dayton’s helped them.

On this lake Wednesday, hardly a soul stirred. Numbers reported in this paper the same day tell the story: the fewest hours the lake has ever been fished in June — 165,000, half the amount of June a year ago.

June’s Mille Lacs walleye harvest was similarly a record low.

Many problems are involved. The lake’s walleye numbers are depressed because of (pick one or more) mismanagement, zebra mussels, tribal netting, spiny water fleas, too many smallmouth bass or too many northern pike.

Anglers also aren’t showing up because the limit is two walleyes between 18 and 20 inches long, and relatively few fish in the lake are that size. Also, sufficient forage fish in the lake this summer are keeping many walleyes full. And anglers have to be off the lake by 10 p.m., according to a night fishing ban imposed by the DNR.

How does this affect people trying to make a living around the lake?

Here’s what I saw Wednesday.

At Reed’s Sporting Goods in Onamia, about 9 a.m., only one other customer was in the building when I stopped.

At Terry’s Boat Harbor, where I launched my boat, I saw only one other customer drop a boat in the lake. All day.

About 8 p.m., when I got off the lake, the Dairy Queen in Onamia had no other customers except me and two friends.

The upshot: Whatever the attributes of the lake’s plentiful smallmouth bass and northern pike, walleye fishing isn’t hot on the lake this summer. But if the night fishing ban were pushed back at least until midnight, anglers could catch a few more walleyes, and likely would return to the lake in numbers sufficient to keep some businesses afloat that otherwise might not make it.

The state’s Mille Lacs walleye quota this year is 42,900 pounds. So far, only 10,000 pounds have been taken (almost half is attributed to post-release mortality, which is included in the harvest estimate).

Everyone knows, because the DNR says it repeatedly, that most of the lake’s annual walleye harvest occurs in May and June, and that the angler-take drops off significantly beginning in July.

So there’s room to adjust the night ban, giving Mille Lacs anglers and businesses a break.

You’d think the DNR would ­figure this out.

Apparently, not so.

But Gov. Dayton is up for re-election this fall. And whatever his other qualities and accomplishments, there’s nary an angler in the state who think his administration has done right by them regarding Mille Lacs.

Late Wednesday, Terry ­Thurmer of Terry’s Boat Harbor on Mille Lacs sent his launch out with four people on it, a money-losing proposition.

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