Last Sunday I asked readers to offer ideas about how to reinvigorate the Mille Lacs walleye population. I suggested anglers should be limited to catch-and-release walleye fishing for at least a year, and that the Chippewa should suspend netting as well. Meantime, on Friday, the DNR announced a record-low 60,000-pound Mille Lacs walleye quota for the coming year, beginning in May — 42,900 pounds for state-regulated anglers and 17,100 pounds for the Chippewa. The DNR will discuss the quota with a Mille Lacs area advisory group later this month. Meanwhile, a sample of readers’ Mille Lacs suggestions follows.
I concur with “No nets for the Chippewa, no keepers for the rest.” Beyond that, my solution is simply two words: barbless hooks.
Considering that the majority of walleye fishermen still do not know how to catch and release walleyes without causing hooking and handling mortality, the simplest way to counteract their inability is to make it easier to unhook the walleye to be returned alive to the lake. I see way too many anglers who still hoist the walleye into the bottom of the boat where it bounces around and almost guarantees its death when returned to the lake. Then there are those who rip the barbed hook out of the fish’s throat or gills to, again, ensure its demise. Education of the walleye angler apparently takes too long so it is not pursued. Let’s take away the mortality problem by changing the regulation on Mille Lacs to barbless only. This approach works very well in many fly-in Canadian lakes. It can work here as well.
J. Baker, Eden Prairie
Why does the DNR always look to target a very specific length of fish with their slot limits? This practice as well as netting has the potential of wiping out entire year classes of fish. Would it not make sense to set a two-walleye limit and have a maximum length of fish to be 40 inches? That would allow fishermen to take any combination of fish to equal 40 inches. The biggest benefit is that fish would then come from two to four year classes and not target a particular year class as the slot of 18-20 inches does.
Michael P. Klein, Twin Cities
Cutting walleye mortality would help the situation. How about requiring circle hooks for live bait fishing? They work well for me. Florida requires their use in a number of saltwater situations.
Ivert Anderson, New Brighton
I believe that both catch and release and suspending netting are worth a try. Why not? By the same token, we are focused on “Save the Walleye” in the Mille Lacs area when we should promote what a great overall resource the region is, close to the metro, that has trophy walleyes, muskies, northerns, smallmouth and perch surrounded by unique lodging, restaurants, guide services, golf courses, resorts, casinos and a whole lot of fun! As for suggestions that we should be killing more of the lake’s big fish: How often do I read, “Where are the big fish?” So killing big fish is a bad idea. I say, deal with the present and invite the crowd.
David A. Larson, Plymouth
My suggestion: Implement a bass tournament on Mille Lacs, one spring, one fall. Something in the style of the Wave Whackers walleye tournament. The tourney would need to be supported by the state, which would assist with advertising, if not nationally, at least throughout the Midwest. Bass anglers are extremely passionate about their sport and will travel to catch the quality and numbers of smallmouth that are available in Mille Lacs. The tournament location could be moved around the lake to assist the resorts that are undoubtedly going to be impacted.
Fish weighed in could be donated to the locals in the hopes of educating people that smallmouths are pretty good in the frying pan. The tourney may even convince walleye guys to give it a try.
Tim Murphy, Hastings
I agree with the proposal to limit walleye fishing to catch and release. However, I have heard reports of many dead walleyes [that were]caught and released, so why not close Mille Lacs to walleye fishing for two years?
I agree also with the suspension of Chippewa netting. This should also be done for two years and/or the net opening size should be significantly increased and the walleye poundage reduced. Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief, says big fish are eating small walleye. Hello, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. Unfortunately, some people have yet to admit the muskie is included in this group of big fish eating small walleyes. I say reduce the slot size limit on muskies and increase the number that can be harvested in a single trip. And re-open Mille Lacs to winter northern pike spearing. There wasn’t a walleye problem when spearing was allowed.
Carl Hoffstedt, Golden Valley
Perhaps part of the Mille Lacs problem is that the massive beds of zebra mussels have eliminated some of the spawning habitat for walleyes.
Gary Nelson, Wyoming, Minn.
The majority of the fish caught on Mille Lacs are by long-lining on Lindy rigs or with crankbaits. In both cases a lot of damage is done to the fish when removing the hooks when they are deep hooked. If the slot is going to be set so tight it is going to be a catch-and-release lake anyway; give the fish a better chance when they are released.
After fishing for many years in Manitoba using barbless hooks I find myself using them here in Minnesota. Guess what: If you miss one because it shakes the hook, re-bait and try again.
Jerry Jensen, Glenwood, Minn.
I have a cabin on the south side of Mille Lacs Lake. For the last 10 years, the cormorant numbers have increased incredibly. Given the past issue on Leech Lake, I would think the DNR would have started to reduce their numbers. I am not aware of anything being done. I would guess this is a contributing factor. Hopefully the DNR will start to control the cormorants without a few years of studies to confirm the obvious.
Dan Haldorson, Eagan
Close the lake to netting and fishing for walleyes for three to five years. Just as was done on Red Lake, start stocking walleyes during this time as necessary to bring the numbers back. Allow the harvest of northern pike with a limit of two — size between 24 and 36 inches, with one of 36 inches. Also allow the harvest of smallmouth bass, with a limit of two. No harvest of musky.
Paul DeWolfe, Zimmerman, Minn.
What if they leased the bands’ fishing rights for five years? The fish they net have so much more value dancing on the end of a tourist’s fishing rod than being rounded up in a gill net. A Mille Lacs user surcharge could be put in place that goes directly to the bands. It could be, say, a $5 sticker that goes directly on the license. Everyone is concerned about the fishery up there. But what is really in jeopardy is the local economy.
Doug Nelson, Onamia
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Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?