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Dennis Anderson

Star Tribune

Minnesota DNR reverses Mille Lacs live bait ban



Mille Lacs walleye anglers can break out their bait boxes, after all.

But they still can't keep any walleyes this season on the big lake.

The Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday morning it is reversing its earlier decision to ban live bait for most Mille Lacs anglers beginning with the May 14 opener.

The DNR said it worked with a local Mille Lacs advisory committee to reconsider the restriction

Now, Mille Lacs Lake anglers will be able to fish with live bait when the open-water season begins.

“This year’s Mille Lacs regulation will not include a live bait restriction due to feedback from anglers and stakeholders,” said Don Pereira, fisheries section chief for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The DNR is hearing that anglers are accepting of the catch-and-release aspect of the walleye season, but members of the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee heard clear concerns about the live bait restriction, as did the DNR.”

The DNR met Wednesday with the advisory panel to discuss the pros and cons of the live-bait ban.

“Our discussion showed the DNR and the committee are determined to work together to protect the resource while still providing the best recreational opportunities on Mille Lacs for a wide range of users,” said Dean Hanson, who operates Agate Bay Resort in Isle and co-chairs the advisory committee.

The DNR's initial decision to ban live bait on Mille Lacs this summer was intended to keep walleye fishing on the lake open as long as possible this summer, without exceeding the state's walleye quota of 28,600 pounds. A federal court decision requires that walleye fishing on Mille Lacs be suspended if anglers exceed the limit.

Concerns about the live-bait ban were expressed locally around the Mille Lacs community as well as from members of the public visiting the Northwest Sports Show, which concluded April 3.

DNR staff learned that it would be difficult for some anglers to adapt to using only artificial bait, and it could particularly discourage young anglers. Bobber fishing with live bait has a long tradition on the lake. Those concerns prompted Wednesday’s meeting between the DNR and the Mille Lacs Lake Advisory Committee.

Hanson said he believes this discussion shows the advisory committee process is working. “We focused on prolonging the walleye season as long as possible by whatever means were available,” said Hanson. But stakeholders told the committee they found the live bait restriction objectionable.

Pereira agreed that the advisory committee process is working well. “The framework was established to communicate information from the public to the DNR, and that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “The committee’s leadership and commitment were crucial to the DNR’s decision-making process.”

The DNR also said in a news release Thursday morning that:

• The new regulations come as the DNR is working to conserve young walleyes so they can mature and become spawners, thus helping the lake’s walleye population to recover. Hooking mortality – an estimate of the number of fish that die after being caught and returned to the water – is a factor in keeping state anglers under this year’s state walleye allotment.

• Hooking mortality increases as water temperatures warm and catch rates increase. Both factors are at play in Mille Lacs this year. Studies show anglers using only artificial bait can reduce hooking mortality substantially because fish are less likely to swallow artificial bait and suffer internal damage from a hook.

Three walleye limit will continue on Upper Red Lake with May 14 opener

Upper Red Lake anglers will be allowed to keep three walleyes when the open water season begins on May 14, the DNR said Monday.

The  bag and possession limit will be three walleyes, with one  longer than 17 inches allowed.

“The new angling regulation and the abundance of 13- to 19-inch walleyes in the population should combine for a great fishing opener on Upper Red Lake,” said Gary Barnard, Bemidji, DNR area fisheries supervisor.

Walleye harvest on Upper Red Lake is managed on an annual basis by a harvest plan, which was updated before the most recent winter fishing season.

“We will be able to continue into the 2016 open water season with the less restrictive regulations because the new harvest plan allows more harvest when spawning size fish are in surplus,” Barnard said. “We have heard reports that the ‘one over’ regulation has been a popular change from the previous protected slot limits.”

The DNR also said in a news release on Monday:

Creel survey information suggests that the regulation is also meeting the DNR management objective of distributing the harvest over a broader size range and removing some of the surplus spawning-sized fish from the population.

Future harvest adjustments could include increasing the bag limit this summer.

“Safeguards are built into the current rule package in case spring harvest is excessive. But given a lower winter harvest, a June 15 adjustment to a four-fish bag limit is very likely,” Barnard said.

Total harvest for the 2015-16 winter season was about 113,000 pounds, which fell below the 140,000 pounds harvested during winter 2014-15, even though less restrictive harvest regulations were in place for the 2015-16 winter season.

One likely reason harvest declined was that fishing pressure shifted to later in the season due to poor early season ice conditions. Catch rates are typically lower later in the season. Still, this was the third highest winter harvest in the past 10 years since the walleye fishery reopened in 2006 after being closed in 1999 due to over harvest.

The DNR has not made a decision regarding the early season fishing closure on the Tamarac River. This decision will be made in late April when biologists are able to assess the status of the walleye spawning run. The DNR closes the spawning locations to fishing only where habitat is limited and fish are very concentrated in one location.

The DNR and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa developed a joint harvest plan that governs walleye harvest, and harvest restrictions are necessary to comply with the harvest plan agreement. Upper Red Lake fishing regulations are available on the DNR website at