For the first time in history, Mille Lacs anglers will be restricted to one walleye, due to the lake's record-low walleye population.
One walleye 19- to 21-inches long or one over 28 inches will be allowed on Mille Lacs when fishing opens Saturday, May 9, and an extended night fishing closure will again be in effect beginning the Monday after the opener.
The night fishing ban will be enforced from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., beginning May 11, and extend to Tuesday, Dec. 1.
The 2015 regulations for Mille Lacs Lake are:
• Walleye: Limit one and the fish must be 19- to 21-inches long or longer than 28 inches.
* Northern pike: Limit of 10. One fish may be longer than 30 inches only if two fish shorter than 30 inches are caught on the same trip and in possession.
* Bass: Limit of six smallmouth and largemouth bass in combination. Only one smallmouth bass may be longer than 18 inches.
The Mille Lacs 2015 walleye safe harvest level was reduced from 60,000 to 40,000 pounds so more fish potentially survive and spawn to improve the walleye population, the DNR said. State anglers can harvest up to 28,600 pounds of walleye. Eight Chippewa bands can harvest up to 11,400 pounds of walleye.
Last year, Mille Lacs anglers could keep two walleyes 18- to 20-inches long or one longer than 28 inches.
“This set of regulations is designed to minimize the likelihood that a catch-and-release only walleye fishing regulation would be needed later in the season to stay within the state’s safe harvest allocation,” Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief said.
The northern pike regulation change was suggested and supported by the Mille Lacs input group. Angling for northern pike runs May 9 through March 27, 2016.
“There was too much pressure on large northern pike last year when anglers and spearers could harvest one fish longer than 30 inches without restriction,” Pereira said. “So this year we’re experimenting with an earn-a-trophy concept that requires anglers to harvest more abundant smaller fish before they can take home a big fish.”
The smallmouth bass season begins May 9 and allows Mille Lacs anglers to harvest smallmouth bass until the last Sunday in February 2016. Anglers may keep six smallmouth and largemouth bass in combination, but only one smallmouth bass may be longer than 18 inches.
“The continuation of liberal northern pike and smallmouth bass regulations speak to the fact these species can withstand additional pressure because their populations are at or near record highs,” Pereira said. “The current walleye regulation and the extended night fishing closure will protect upcoming year classes of young walleye and adult spawning stock, and help ensure the harvest stays within the safe harvest level.”
There will be two exceptions to the night fishing ban this year for muskie and bow fishing. Beginning Monday, June 8, muskie anglers may fish at night with artificial lures longer than 8 inches or sucker minnows longer than 8 inches. Bow fishing for rough fish only also will be allowed at night beginning June 8 provided no angling equipment is in a boat.
“Night muskie fishing and bow fishing for rough fish are popular on Mille Lacs,” Pereira said. “Last year, all boats had to be off the water at night. This year, we’ave listened to stakeholders and adjusted the regulations to accommodate night fishing methods that are expected to have no impact on the walleye we’re trying to protect.”
Pereira said this year's Mille Lacs regulations reflect significant fish population changes in the lake. Walleye numbers are at a 40-year low. Northern pike numbers are at record highs. The smallmouth bass population has been increasing since the 1990s. Tullibee and perch populations, both important forage species, are relatively low.
“We’re encouraged by walleye hatched in 2013,” Pereira said. “That year class shows strong signs that more of those fish are surviving and will mature.”
Other factors contributing to the changing fishery on Mille Lacs and possibly influencing the survival of young walleye, the DNR said, include clearer water that may limit suitable habitat and increase vulnerability to predation, longer growing seasons related to climate change that may favor other species, and the indirect impacts of a variety of invasive species in the lake, including zebra mussels, spiny water fleas and Eurasian watermilfoil.
“Mille Lacs is a system under change and portions of that change began even prior to the intensive management that began in the late 1990s,” said Pereira. “The good news is that we have more than enough spawning walleye and a history of solid egg and fry production. What we need is for the walleye that hatch to grow into strong year classes for anglers to catch. That has’t happened since 2008. That’s why we are focused on protecting small walleye and our ample but declining walleye spawning stock.”
More information on Mille Lacs management can be found at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake.
The blue ribbon panel the Department of Natural Resources convened to double-check its Lake Mille Lacs fisheries management strategy has confirmed the big lake’s primary problem is a lack of survival among young walleyes.
“Our independent review of DNR management of Mille Lacs reached similar conclusions as the agency,” said Paul Venturelli, a quantitative fisheries ecologist at the university. “Mainly, more walleye are not surviving their first three years of life. It is unlikely that recreational or sustenance harvest is a root cause of this problem.”
The DNR asked the panel in early 2014 to review past and current management practices as part of an effort to increase the lake’s walleye population as quickly as possible.
According to a press release issued by the Unviersity of Minnesota:
Venturelli presented the panel’s work at the DNR’s annual roundtable with stakeholders today. To read the panel’s full report, see http://z.umn.edu/millelacswalleyepanel.
After collecting data from the DNR, the panel worked independently of the agency to come up with conclusions and make recommendations for Mille Lacs walleye management.
“The DNR opened up its books for our panel as we worked independently to examine the data and factors that may have contributed to the decline, and made recommendations to the agency about future actions that it could take involving data collection, research and management,” Venturelli said.
In addition to evaluating hypotheses about the walleye population decline, the panel made the following recommendations:
Revisit the methods used to determine annual target harvest levels.
Set conservative harvest regulations until the population improves or the lake’s system is better understood.
Determine the potential effect of cormorants on the walleye population and, if necessary, implement cormorant management.
Manage fish that prey on young walleye (northern pike, smallmouth bass and larger walleye) in ways that benefit young walleye survival.
Continue intensive fish population monitoring and other forms of data collection.
Avoid walleye stocking. Natural reproduction in Mille Lacs is already very high. Rather, the problem appears to be low survival from the first winter to approximately the third fall. Stocked fish would suffer the same fate and could exacerbate the problem by helping to sustain predator populations.
“The causes of the decline in survival are complex because of many direct, indirect, and interacting factors. But I think that we succeeded at narrowing the focus of the discussion,” Venturelli said.
According to Venturelli, the decline in the survival of young walleye started in the late 1980s, well before the fishery began to decline around the year 2000.
“And yet the population has been reproducing at high levels throughout this period and into the present,” Venturelli said. “The young just aren’t making it through. This is likely the result of walleye predation, and to a lesser degree, recent predation by pike and cormorants.”
Possible explanations for higher predation include fewer tullibee for larger walleye to feed on, improved water clarity and quality since the Clean Water Act of the 1970s and the possible effects of invasive species.
Don Pereira, Minnesota DNR chief of fisheries, thanked the group for their efforts on behalf of the improving Mille Lacs walleye fishery.
“While it would have been helpful if the panel could have identified a significant problem or approach to address the issue that we might have missed, it is reassuring that the panel’s findings indicate that we are on the right track for understanding and ultimately addressing the walleye decline,” Pereira said.
Other panel members were Jim Bence and Travis Brenden of the Quantitative Fisheries Center at Michigan State University; Nigel Lester, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the University of Toronto; and Lars Rudstam, Cornell University and Oneida Lake Field Station.
Plan to fish Upper Red this winter?
If so, expect tighter walleye harvest restrictions.
Starting Dec. 1, anglers can keep three walleyes, with a possession limit also of three. And the protected slot will be 17-26 inches. One walleye may be longer than 26 inches.
Until Dec. 1, the limit is four, with a protected slot of 20-26 inches.
“More restrictive walleye regulations are not an indication of any biological problems with the walleye population on Upper Red Lake,” said Gary Barnard, Bemidji area fisheries supervisor. “The current walleye fishery is in excellent shape, but the great fishing has attracted considerably more angling pressure, which resulted in walleye harvest exceeding the safe harvest range for the first time since walleye angling reopened in 2006.”
Harvest reduction was discussed at an Upper Red Lake Citizen Advisory Committee meeting in late September.
“Previous advisory meetings were easier when we were relaxing regulations, but everyone on the committee understands the importance of protecting this fishery and adhering to our joint harvest plan,” said advisory committee member Joe Corcoran.
The regulation package had full support from the committee as the best way to balance harvest reduction with business and angler interests, Corcoran added.
President H.W. Bush was honored Wednesday at his summer home in Maine for his lifetime interest in fishing and in particular the policies he initiated and signed as president to conserve the nation's fisheries.
Bush fished regularly during his presidency, often for bonefish in the Florida Keys in winter and off the Maine coast in summer.
The former president had planned to fish the St. Croix River while in the Twin Cities for the 2008 Republican Convention but had to cancel. He planned to fish with fly-fishing expert and St. Croix River specialist Bob Nasby of St. Paul.
Among leaders of the U.S. sportfishing industry who met with Bush at his Maine home Wednesday was Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris.
Bush turned 90 last week, celebrating by sky diving as he has on previous birthdays.
From an American Sportfishing Association (ASA) press release:
On Wednesday, ASA President and CEO Mike Nussman presented the former president with the inaugural KeepAmericaFishing Lifetime Achievement award on behalf of the recreational fishing industry and the nation’s 60 million anglers. The award recognizes Bush’s leadership and lifelong personal commitment to recreational fishing and the conservation of our nation’s fisheries and wetlands. Launched by ASA in 2010, KeepAmericaFishing was established as a way for anglers to get involved in advocating for clean water, abundant fish populations and plenty of places to go fishing. In addition to this award, ASA presented its inaugural Fisherman of the Year award to Bush in 1986.
“During his administration, President Bush, an ardent angler and outdoorsman, was responsible for signing into law some of the most important legislation ever drafted to conserve our nation’s fisheries and their habitat,” said Nussman. “Today, the sportfishing industry and anglers recognized his lifelong commitment to our nation’s natural resources with the first KeepAmericaFishing Lifetime Achievement award for his extraordinary efforts to advocate for fisheries conservation and habitat restoration.”
Nussman added, “What most people don’t know is that when Bush was Vice President, he played a key role in assuring the passage of the 1984 amendments to the Sport Fish Restoration Act – an action second only to the original Act’s passage in 1950. When President, Bush came to the Act’s rescue in 1991 making sure that the Office of Management and Budget did not divert any of the Trust Fund’s monies from their intended purpose of supporting sport fisheries conservation and habitat restoration. He played a key role in ensuring recreational fishing future.”
Currently, Congress is revising the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the law that governs our nation’s marine resources. Morris and Scott Deal, president, Maverick Boats, chair the Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management which is composed of anglers, scientists, former agency administrators, conservationists, industry representatives and economists, who are seeking to ensure that saltwater recreational fishing becomes a priority of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.
During the meeting, Morris announced that Bass Pro Shops was presenting a $125,000 gift in President Bush’s name to the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) for its Hispanic angling and boating participation campaign called “Vamos a Pescar.” Over the past 18 months, RBFF has been working on developing the campaign website and marketing materials since its Board of Directors approved a five-year plan in 2013 to engage the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population in fishing and boating.
During his time in office, Bush established 56 new wildlife refuges; restored three million acres of wetlands; protected 17.8 million acres of public lands, including national parks, wildlife areas and refuges; and signed the Clean Air Act reauthorization requiring cleaner burning fuels.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust were also in attendance to pay tribute to Bush’s conservation legacy.
Walleye fishing is improving daily across much of Minnesota.
Upper Red has been hot all season. Crane and Namakan on the Canadian border were good when the Ontario season opened last Saturday. Vermilion was good on the opener for many anglers, despite the ice. Saganaga at the end of the Gunflint Trail is finally ice-free.
And great walleye fishing is occurring next door to the Twin Cities on the St. Croix River, reports guide Dick "the Griz'' Grzywinski (photo above, while fishing earlier this spring on the Mississippi) of St. Paul (651-771-6231 or book through Blue Ribbon Bait in St. Paul, 651-777-2421.)
Guide Tony Roach (763-226-6656 or www.roachsguideservice.com) is doing well on Mille Lacs, catching mixed bags of walleyes, smallies and northerns.
And Guide Tom Neustrom is doing well on Grand Rapids area lakes, including Leech and Winnie. Contact: 218-327-2312 or 218-259-2628, or email@example.com.