by Bret “T-Bone” Amundson

The DNR offers ideas to help the Mille Lacs walleye population

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The Hazleton Town Hall was crammed full of Mille Lacs resort owners, fishing guides, bait shop owners and concerned fisherman.   The heated atmosphere was turned out to be more a result of the temperature, than arguments.

Rumors swirled prior to the meeting that the DNR would be proposing some new regulations that could be damaging to the area businesses, but in the end, the meeting offered more of a “here’s what we could do, what do you think?”

Making the lake more “small fish friendly” was the main theme of the night and to get there, the DNR offered a number of suggestions.

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Including an extended night fishing ban, a smaller bag and slot limit, some live bait restrictions and a “circle hook only” policy.    Whittled down from over 30 possible regulations, this group was deemed the only ones possible.

Each one was shot down by those in attendance as they all affected each of the area businesses in different ways.  The night ban would hurt the launches, the live bait restriction would hurt the bait shops and the smaller bags hurt the resorts.

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All valid arguments, and the DNR knew it.

From their perspective, they were trying to find a way to keep from having to change regulations mid-season.  After finding a critical reduction in their recent net surveys, they were concerned enough to get serious about management this year.  A lower combined harvest goal between the state and the bands was implemented.  To keep the state’s harvest level below that goal, something needed to be done.

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What would be worse for local businesses?  A mid-season closure?  Or restrictions that go season long?

That became the main discussion for the night.  Frustration was heard from both sides, but fuses were quickly extinguished when it was obvious that everyone was after the same result:  more walleyes in Mille Lacs.

Research showed a healthy class of young fish, now a solution was needed to make sure they survive.  Regulations regarding the young walleyes predators was also on the agenda.

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Loosening the restrictions on the healthy pike and the exploding smallmouth bass populations were suggested as a way to be more “small fish friendly”.  Two thoughts at work there: 1) You’ll help the walleyes by reducing the amount of fish that eat them, and 2) You may attract more pike and bass anglers by allowing them to take more fish.

The second recurring theme of the night was “What are the bands doing about this?”  While there was some brief insight as how they were approaching the upcoming year, the DNR constantly reminded us that we were there to figure out what the state could do.

For now, they’re listening.  You can still offer your ideas for Mille Lacs management, but it’s clear something will need to be done and, of course, not everyone will be happy with what it is.

Bret Amundson

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