Anderson: Mille Lacs study of walleye population on thin ice

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 17, 2013 - 12:23 AM

Because of the late ice this spring, a DNR study of the walleye population has tagged only 6,000 fish.

hide

Lake Mille Lacs still was covered in ice in early May. This photo was taken near Garrison on the northwest side of the lake.

Photo: DNR photo by Tom Landwehr, Dml -

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

So far this spring, little has gone as planned on Mille Lacs, starting with the late ice-out, which — if it didn’t occur Thursday afternoon or evening — likely will happen Friday.

In addition to millions of dollars of revenue lost by resorts, bait shops and other businesses so far this fishing season, lost — or at least diminished — in the delayed transition from hard water to soft has been a long-planned assessment of the lake’s walleye population by the Department of Natural Resources.

Lost as well to the eight bands of Chippewa that net and spear the lake in spring is anything near their quota of walleyes, which was 72,250 pounds this year.

As of Wednesday, the bands had collected only 13,500 pounds. And most tribal netting and spearing is likely complete for the spring because the lake’s walleyes are done, or nearly done, spawning.

How could spawning be complete when most of the lake has been ice-covered until the last day or so?

Easy: The fish began their reproduction process under the ice, triggered by the length of the day, if not by water temperature, which this month generally has remained below 40 degrees Fahrenheit throughout much of Mille Lacs.

“But when you get a sunny day and have a little open water along the shore, those areas can warm up into the 40s,” said Rick Bruesewitz, DNR area fisheries supervisor. “And fish can move in to spawn.”

Unfortunately for the DNR, its electroshocking and netting crews couldn’t reach the same shoreline waters in their attempts to assess the lake’s walleye population by tagging thousands of fish.

Recent DNR studies have suggested Mille Lacs walleyes are at a 40-year low, and fisheries managers had hoped to refine that population estimate, while also determining which walleyes are particularly vulnerable to sport fishing.

To that end, the DNR had planned for its crews to catch and tag 20,000 walleyes during the spawn. Some would be corralled in hoop nets placed in the lake’s shallows. Others would be temporarily stunned and floated to the surface by DNR electrofishing crews.

“But we couldn’t get our crews into the small areas along the lake that were free of ice,” Bruesewitz said.

Consequently, as of Thursday, perhaps only 6,000 walleyes had been caught and tagged. That relatively low number, Bruesewitz said, will create “confidence levels in our population estimate that are much wider than we would like to see.”

One option is to redo the study next spring. Another is to redouble the agency’s plan in a couple of weeks to capture walleyes after they have dispersed throughout the lake.

This second effort would create a ratio of tagged walleyes to untagged walleyes, which would help form the basis of a new walleye population estimate.

But because only about 6,000 walleyes are wearing tags, fisheries technicians would have to capture as many as 15,000 fish in the second go-round to get a reliable handle on the lake’s walleye numbers.

Capturing that many walleyes in the open lake could be problematic, Bruesewitz said, because DNR technicians use gill nets in the second attempt, not hoop nets, and the former pose a greater threat to caught fish.

Additionally, the staffing required to catch that many walleyes, considering that DNR crews leave gill nets in the water only 20 minutes or so at a time, would be considerable.

The tagged walleyes also were intended to help the DNR further understand the distribution of male and female fish in anglers’ catches.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Mets 8 FINAL
Atlanta 2
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
NY Yankees 1
Detroit 5 FINAL
Baltimore 4
Toronto 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Cincinnati 2 FINAL
Cleveland 4
San Diego 3 FINAL
Seattle 4
Chicago WSox 6 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Kansas City 13 FINAL
Texas 2
Oakland 9 FINAL
San Francisco 2
Wisc-Milwaukee 0 FINAL
Milwaukee 8
Arizona 6 FINAL
Colorado 3
Univ of Minnesota 1 FINAL
Minnesota 3
New York 82 FINAL
Indiana 105
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Orlando 100
Cleveland 120 FINAL
Toronto 112
Utah 84 FINAL
Boston 85
Charlotte 115 FINAL
Brooklyn 91
Denver 100 FINAL
Minnesota 85
Detroit 85 FINAL
New Orleans 88
LA Lakers 94 FINAL
Miami 100
Philadelphia 118 FINAL
Oklahoma City 123
Memphis 102 FINAL
Houston 100
Sacramento 85 FINAL
San Antonio 112
Milwaukee 67 3rd Qtr 2:23
Golden State 70
Portland 59 3rd Qtr 3:47
LA Clippers 66
Ottawa 3 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
NY Rangers 1 FINAL(OT)
Detroit 2
Pittsburgh 1 3rd Prd 9:10
Colorado 2
Montreal 0 3rd Prd 15:25
Anaheim 2
Longwood 65 FINAL
Presbyterian 61
Campbell 64 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 72
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 80
Ohio State 77 FINAL
Penn State 67
Maine 66 FINAL
Albany 83
Duquesne 81 FINAL
Fordham 66
George Washington 67 FINAL
George Mason 51
Tennessee 78 FINAL
LSU 63
Notre Dame 71 FINAL
Louisville 59
SE Missouri St 74 FINAL
Morehead State 79
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Mount St Marys 58
Hartford 63 FINAL
New Hampshire 67
Wagner 68 FINAL
Robert Morris 91
Long Island 70 FINAL
St Francis-NY 79
La Salle 50 FINAL
Saint Josephs 55
Providence 79 FINAL
Seton Hall 66
UCF 45 FINAL
South Florida 74
Binghamton 57 FINAL
Stony Brook 62
UMBC 39 FINAL
Vermont 66
Sacred Heart 85 FINAL
Bryant 91
Richmond 56 FINAL
Massachusetts 53
Wake Forest 51 FINAL
Duke 94
Purdue 66 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Miami-Florida 67 FINAL
Pittsburgh 63
St Bonaventure 64 FINAL
Saint Louis 48
New Mexico St 69 FINAL
TX-Pan American 48
Houston 68 FINAL
Tulane 63
Howard 62 FINAL
NJIT 71
TCU 70 FINAL
Oklahoma State 82
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
Tulsa 47
USC 74 FINAL
UCLA 85
Miss State 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Utah State 53 FINAL
Wyoming 76
St Johns 67 FINAL
Marquette 51
SIU Edwardsville 66 FINAL
Eastern Ill 78
Air Force 66 FINAL
Fresno State 68
Nebraska 57 FINAL
Illinois 69
Colorado State 78 FINAL
Nevada 62
Boise State 68 FINAL
San Jose St 51
San Diego St 35 2nd Half 16:36
UNLV 34
Oregon 32 2nd Half 18:05
Oregon State 38
UC Santa Barbara 19 1st Half 14:21
Hawaii 10
Toledo 64 FINAL
Northern Ill 68
Wake Forest 69 FINAL
Boston College 53
Eastern Illinois 35 FINAL
UT Martin 68
Austin Peay 69 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 72
Virginia Tech 57 FINAL
NC State 56
Massachusetts 55 FINAL
St Bonaventure 49
Auburn 71 FINAL
Florida 49
Penn State 63 FINAL
Indiana 68
Clemson 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 80
Davidson 63 FINAL
La Salle 74
Loyola-Maryland 46 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Boston U 48 FINAL
Colgate 58
Coll of Charleston 58 FINAL
James Madison 107
Delaware 76 FINAL
Elon 77
Drexel 58 FINAL
Northeastern 42
Hofstra 75 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 76
Towson 56 FINAL
William & Mary 68
Miami-Ohio 55 FINAL
Akron 67
Ball State 85 FINAL
Central Michigan 69
Buffalo 55 FINAL
Bowling Green 47
Western Mich 65 FINAL
Eastern Michigan 74
Ohio U 69 FINAL
Kent State 56
Youngstown St 62 FINAL
Cleveland State 73
Illinois-Chicago 54 FINAL
Wright State 74
Alabama 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Detroit 60 FINAL
Milwaukee 56
Purdue 58 FINAL
Wisconsin 56
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close