Mille Lacs walleye take is below quota
by Rob Drieslein, Outdoor News

Editor’s note: The following story was originally printed in the October, 1 2004 issue of Outdoor News.

Aitkin, Minn. - For the second straight year, tribal harvest likely will eclipse the total state kill for walleyes on Lake Mille Lacs. That’s the result of a poor angling year on the big lake, a fact that state fisheries managers are chalking up to abundant forage.

As of Sept. 15, state anglers had brought home 60,000 pounds of walleyes from Mille Lacs in 2004, according to Rick Bruesewitz, 1837 Treaty biologist. Combined with another 8,000 pounds of hooking mortality, the state kill on Mille Lacs so far totals 68,000 pounds. That’s significantly below the state’s 380,000-pound quota for the year.

In 2003, state anglers killed about 67,000 pounds of walleyes, though hooking mortality accounted for a larger percentage of the kill, almost 50 percent, Bruesewitz said.

Combined with the 200,000 pounds of walleyes that were released because they fell inside the 20- to 28-inch protected slot, the 260,000 pounds of walleyes caught remains low, but there have been years with lower total catches, he said.

The eight bands of Minnesota and Wisconsin Ojibwe have a 100,000-pound quota, and had fulfilled about 75,000 pounds of that this spring. Late last week, the Mille Lacs Band notified the state that it would begin limited fall gill-netting for walleyes. In past years, the band has taken a small percentage of its walleyes, totaling in the hundreds or couple thousand pounds, during the fall.

The state completed its fall gill-netting assessment last week, Bruesewitz said. It showed “pretty good” numbers of walleyes, he said, though the “gap” of 15- to 17-inch fish persists. Low numbers of fish from year-classes in that range have existed since 2002 when low perch forage on the lake forced large walleyes to consume small ones. The 2000 and 2001 year-classes remain in low abundance as a result.

Walleyes from the 2002 year-class and fish older than the 2000 year-class appear very healthy, Bruesewitz said.

The DNR doesn’t expect high forage will effect in the bite in 2005 as it did in 2004, Bruesewitz said, because the 2004 year-class of perch (and walleyes) was fairly poor. That means fish in the prime angler catching size of 14 to 17 inches should be more hard-pressed for food.

Jack Wingate, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division research manager, said the severe “underage” this year doesn’t mean that state anglers can expect 300,000 pounds of bonus quota next year.

The state can add up to 30 percent of its share of the 2005 safe allowable surplus to the top next year thanks to the 2004 underage, Wingate said. As part of its five-year plan, the state cannot exceed 130 percent of its safe allowable harvest in a given year, he said.