Mille Lacs walleye anglers will be limited to two fish beginning May 11, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday morning.
The harvest slot wil be 18 to 20 inches. One walleye in the two-fish limit can be larger than 28 inches.
Last year the limit was four walleyes, with only walleyes under 17 inches allowed to be kept, except that one could be longer 28 inches. Fish the smaller size were difficult to find.
Changes also are coming this summer to smallmouth bass and northern pike limits on the big lake.
The lake’s 27- to 40-inch protected slot regulation for northerns will be narrowed to a 33- to 40-inch protected slot, with one longer than 40 inches. The possession limit is three.
In a news release Tuesday morning, the DNR also said that the smallmouth bass bag limit and slot limit will be broadened to allow for more harvest. The new regulation is a 17- to 20-inch protected slot. The possession limit is six, with only one longer than 20 inches in possession. Previously, all smallmouth bass less than 21 inches had to be immediately released and the possession limit was one.
“We want Mille Lacs to continue to be a world-class walleye fishing destination,” said Dirk Peterson, DNR fisheries chief. “Currently, the size and structure of the walleye population isn’t where we want it. We are committed to remedying the situation as quickly as possible through regulations that are designed to increase survival of the lake’s younger and smaller walleye.
“The smallmouth bass and northern pike regulations are designed to protect smaller walleye until we have better information on what these predator species are eating,” said Peterson. “We’ll be starting a predator diet study this spring. Meanwhile, the regulations will allow anglers some additional non-walleye harvest opportunities while also retaining solid numbers of trophy-sized fish.”
The DNR said it wants to conserve the lake’s large 2008 year-class of walleye because no strong year-class is coming up behind these fish. Fish in this year-class are 15- to 17-inches in length.
The new rules, the DNR said, intend to keep the total walleye kill below the combined state-tribal 2013 safe harvest level of 250,000 pounds. Fishing regulations may be adjusted if angler kill is expected to be either too high or lower than anticipated. This year’s safe harvest level is the lowest established since treaty management began in 1997.
In the DNR release, Tom Jones, Mille Lacs Lake coordinator, said a 2-inch walleye harvest slot is not unprecedented on Mille Lacs, having been implemented in 2001, 2002 and 2007. He said the state’s walleye harvest has been below this year’s allocation level of 178,500 pounds four of the last 10 years and in 2005 the harvest was below 200,000 pounds.
The lake is also becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable, the DNR said. This is due largely to changes due to the presence of unwanted aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels, spiny water flea and Eurasian watermilfoil.
These factors, plus a state and tribal harvest management strategy that focused largely on walleyes in the 14- to 18-inch range, all have contributed to a declining walleye population, according to the DNR.
Jones said despite the declining walleye population, winter walleye fishing was good, which typically suggests good fishing in spring.
For a list of lakes in the northern third of Wisconsin in territory ceded by the Chippewa to the federal government in an 1800-era treaty, and the walleye limits on those waters for the coming season for sport anglers, click here.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary (the title that state uses instead of "commissioner'') Cathy Stepp reacted strongly Monday to that state's annual tribal walleye harvest declarations issued by Chippewa bands.
Never before, Stepp said, have the Chippewa declared so many lakes that will result in angler walleye limits on those waters to be reduced to one.
Fully 197 lakes declared by the Chippewa on Monday will lead to one-walleye angler limits, Stepp said, compared to 10 lakes previously that fell into that category.
Among them is the Three Lakes chain in northwest Wisconsin, a popular destination for tourists and anglers.
The Chippewa are within their rights, Stepp said, to seek the higher limits for their band members.
But one band, she said — the Lac du Flambeau — named 232 of their 233 lakes as two-walleye limits for anglers. In doing so, she said, the band essentially voided unilaterally a 16-year agreement with the state.
As part of that agreement, Stepp said, the Tribe received $84,500 from the state to maintain the three-walleye bag limit. They also received revenue generated through sales of snowmobile, ATV and fishing license sales on reservation.
"Based on the tribe’s breach of the agreement, the department has no choice but to withhold the payment and the license revenue,'' Stepp said.
“Wisconsin's strong walleye fishery and the tourism it produces are very important in northern Wisconsin. As secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, sustaining our fishery is foremost in my priorities
"The Chippewa tribes are acting lawfully within their treaty rights. However, over the past 10 years, we have seen a maximum of 10 lakes declared at one time for one-walleye bag limits. This drastic increase in lakes named at a one-walleye bag limit is significant, unprecedented, and a challenge to long-standing partnerships.
"I remain committed to building on the successful partnerships we have expanded upon and enjoyed together over my two years as DNR Secretary. However, I will stand up for state interests, including angler harvest opportunities and the benefits they bring to local economies.
"Be assured, the increased declarations do not endanger the fishery. The DNR manages the fishery and has developed a nationally respected system designed to protect water bodies from over harvest.
"Over the next few weeks, DNR aims to work with the tribes in an effort to negotiate a reduction in their declarations.
"We have displayed a willingness to cooperate and negotiate with all of Wisconsin’s tribes, and we have many success stories that represent that partnership.
"We will continue to be available to work with the Chippewa tribes for the proper management of our state's abundant and important natural resources. All of Wisconsin's citizens--tribal and non-tribal--expect and deserve that.”
BACKGROUND (from the Wisconsin DNR): As part of a 1983 federal Appellate Court decision affirming Chippewa off-reservation hunting, fishing, and gathering rights, the six bands of Wisconsin Chippewa set annual harvest quotas for off-reservation lakes in the Wisconsin Ceded Territory. As part of subsequent court agreements, the Department of Natural Resources reduces bag limits for recreational hook and line anglers in lakes declared for harvest by the Chippewa bands to assure the combined tribal and recreational angler harvest in a lake does not jeopardize the stability of that lake’s walleye population.
Fish houses are being moved farther out from Baudette on Lake of the Woods, reports Sportsman's Lodge, in an effort to find more walleyes.
Here's the report filed by Sportsman's on Thursday:
"We now have fish houses scattered from 5-7 miles outside of Pine Island all the way up to 20-25 miles away near Garden Island and Bridges. The ride is a bit longer and we can no longer provide hot lunches due to the distance, but we feel having the capability to find the best bite is worth it.
"Some of the best fishing has been found in 24 to 28 feet of water in the southern houses and 23 to 26 feet and 28 to 32 feet in the houses on the reefs. A mix of jigging and dead sticking is suggested. One rod of each is best at this time.
"Vexilars/fish finders are helpful. At times anglers are saying it can be a timid bite, so you want to really get the feel for the nibble and set the hook at just the right time. The good old reliable gold jig and minnow or plain hook with a minnow head has been doing best for tackle.
"Other notable tackle lately has been the Macho Minnow #29 and buck shots with a shine or shimmer to them. The days are getting longer, the sun is shining more and that usually gets the fish more active. We can have our fish houses out on the lake until March 31.''
"Currently there are 3 feet of ice in areas Sportsman's travels and fishes and a few feet or better of snow cover.''
"The trails are in great shape! Nice snow cover and they are being groomed regularly. For more detailed trail conditions go to Lake of the Woods Drifter’s Snowmobile Club or Northwest Angle Edge Riders Club . Lake of the Woods has over 500 miles of groomed trails''
Department of Natural Resources fisheries managers announced Friday an effort to undertake a statewide "fish habitat plan'' intended to improve water quality, and therefore fish populations.
Details were vague, and DNR fisheries habitat research supervisor Peter Jacobson said no budget recommendations had been developed.
In a presentation at the agency's annual roundtable, or stakeholder meetings, in St. Paul, Jacobson said that about 42 percent of state lakes were "high quality,'' and need to be protected.
Many of the rest, he said, require restoration, in part through partnerships whose goal would be to protect entire watersheds.
Jacobson suggested the Clean Water Fund created by passage of the Legacy Amendment, and perhaps also the Outdoor Heritage Fund, would be sources of funding for the proposal.
Objectives of the plan include:
• Establishing landscape scale conservation zones.
• Prioritizing project areas.
• Educating the public
• Tracking results.
Jacobson indicated that DNR Fisheries will add details to the plan including budgets and timetables in the near future.