After reading the opinion of former Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Rod Sando (“Why the DNR is not the protesters’ enemy,” July 15), I am reminded of the saying that if you want to know how the food tastes, ask those who eat it, not those who cook it. It also prompts me to share a recent story and a different opinion.
There are some days on the water you never forget. Most of my unforgettable days have been on Lake Mille Lacs, the best lake in Minnesota and where I, my brother, my mother and my in-laws own cabins. July 2, 2017, was such a day. As we have done for years, my brother Dave and I launched our boats from opposite sides of the lake near our respective cabins and met in the middle on our favorite, nameless mud flat. I call it Dave’s Flat, since he introduced me to it and he spends way too much time on it.
We were there first, since Dave had stopped to fish another flat. We were into fish immediately and boated five the first 15 minutes. When Dave arrived, he pulled up to our boat and announced that his friend Kelsey just caught the biggest walleye of her life, a 28¼-incher. We fished within shouting distance and caught walleyes of all sizes until we noticed Kelsey’s husband, Keith, battling a big one. Dave announced that Keith just caught the fish of his life, a walleye exceeding 29½ inches. It was our turn to turn heads as they watched me battle and land a big one. It was just short of 29½ inches, setting my all-time record. It wasn’t long before my best-ever fish was the third-biggest fish caught that day, when Dave caught his biggest walleye ever at 29¾ inches.
Within two hours, four of us caught the biggest walleyes of our lives, not to mention all the others we boated that day. Dave counts his fish, and he finished with 50, while my boat caught almost as many. Like every summer day the past two years, all the walleyes had to be released. As for fish count, it was a normal 2017 day.
Others on the lake have experienced the same thing, including a reported 300-fish launch trip. Our experience does not reflect what we have heard from the co-managers of the lake the past two seasons. Our fishing has been fantastic, and we have caught walleyes of all sizes. What we haven’t seen are the “hooking mortality” walleyes. I have not seen one walleye washed up on shore this season.
Another day I’ll never forget is July 7, the day the best walleye fishing season of our lives ended.
I plan on spending the rest of my life on Mille Lacs and care deeply about the long-term health of the lake, like thousands of others who love the lake as much as I do. If I believed the July-7-to-July-27 closure would help the health of the lake, I would be for it, but the facts don’t support it. I’m not worried about too few fish in the lake and losing my favorite summertime pastime. I’m worried that there are more fish than food, since many of the walleyes we caught were hungry and looked thin. I’m worried that business owners will continue to struggle and lose their life’s work, making the already-depressed local economy worse. I’m worried that this biological-turned-political mess will continue, ignoring the testimony of the anglers who care about the lake and are on it every day. If Mille Lacs could talk, it would repeat Mark Twain’s words: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
July 2 was one of our best days on Mille Lacs. July 7 was one of the worst days in the modern history of the lake. The shutdown is a reminder of how far we have fallen. If former Commissioner Sando is right and comanagement is working, then why has Mille Lacs gone from being a world-class walleye fishery to a lake where it is now illegal for a kid to dangle a worm under a bobber from a dock?
Dan Nygaard lives in Big Lake, Minn.