A night fishing ban imposed this spring and summer to help conserve the troubled Lake Mille Lacs walleye population will be lifted July 21.
The ban has contributed to historically slow fishing on Mille Lacs this year, which has long been popular because it offered high-quality fishing less than a two-hour drive from the Twin Cities.
So few people have fished Mille Lacs that the 42,900-pound harvest quota imposed this year on sport anglers isn’t likely to be reached, said Dave Schad, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) deputy commissioner. “We’ve done some [computer] modeling, and it looks like the risk of reaching the quota is very, very low,’’ he said.
Imposed since just after the May walleye and northern pike opener because of concerns about the walleye population, the ban has been in effect from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., during which no boats could be on Mille Lacs with fishing equipment.
In addition to the night restriction, a tight limit on the size of walleyes that may be kept is in force, and the DNR has said an abundance of natural food is keeping the walleye harvest to a minimum.
The night ban — which also affected muskie anglers and bowfishermen, among others — was needed, the DNR said, so the walleye harvest quota wouldn’t be exceeded.
But the lake’s restriction — known as a slot limit — of two walleyes of 18 to 20 inches (one of more than 28 inches is allowed) has kept anglers away, resort owners have said. And those who have fished Mille Lacs have found walleye action slow because of what the DNR says are plentiful forage fish.
Night fishing productive
As a result, the June walleye harvest was a record low for Mille Lacs, as was the amount of fishing pressure recorded on the lake.
Typically, night fishing for Mille Lacs walleyes is more productive than daytime fishing. A fishing culture unique to the lake has developed over the years, during which boatloads of anglers converge to bobber-fish for walleyes over submerged rock piles. At least some of those anglers are likely to return to the lake when the night ban is lifted.
“Visitors to the lake will definitely appreciate the ban being lifted,’’ said Tina Chapman of Chapman’s Mille Lacs Resort and Guide Service. “And I don’t think the lake’s walleyes will be hurt by it.’’
Mille Lacs commercial fishing launches, which cater to groups of anglers, also have suffered this summer. Typically, anglers on the launches have the best luck on trips that last until about midnight.
But this summer, because of the night ban, the big boats had to head to port by about 9:30 p.m. — just when Mille Lacs walleyes typically begin to bite. Nor could anglers travel as often to midlake “flats,’’ as they historically have, and still be docked by 10 p.m.
“We had a launch out Saturday night with 25 people on it,’’ said George Nitti of Nitti’s Hunters Point Resort. “They caught 10 fish, one of which they could keep.’’
Other businesses suffering
Launch owners also have complained that many of their clients come from the Twin Cities area after work and couldn’t reach Mille Lacs this summer in time to make the boats’ earlier departure times.
Other businesses in the area also have suffered this summer, because so few anglers have fished the lake. Nitti’s Resort has eight cabins and two motel rooms, and each is vacant this week, Nitti said.
He and other locals blame springtime walleye netting by eight Chippewa bands, an opportunity granted by a Supreme Court ruling on treaty rights, for the lessened walleye population.