By Erik Jacobson, Staff Writer Mille Lacs Messenger Jul 2, 2021

The walleye fishing on Mille Lacs lake has been nothing short of phenomenal the last few years. The hallowed 2013 year class of walleyes has not disappointed and the DNR has done their best – for whatever reason – to protect it through the years with larger and larger slot sizes just outside of the length of the fish in that class.

The slot limits over the past few years have all been over 20 inches – well over the size fish most walleye anglers like to keep. The preferred size walleye to eat is generally anywhere from 15-17 inches in most anglers books. Heck, the statewide regulation is only one fish over 20 inches yet that has been the norm for harvest (when there is one) on the big lake for years now. I can’t help but wonder, why?

Now if I had to look into my crystal ball, I would predict as soon as the bulk of the 2013 class fish begin to reach the low twenty inch range the DNR will magically switch the slot to something like 18-20 inches. Again, intentionally protecting that class of fish, and in the process creating another giant eating machine that will literally roam free for the rest of their natural lives cannibalizing small walleyes whenever there is a shortage of forage – generally perch.

I can tell you emphatically, Mille Lacs is the most studied walleye lake in history, no other lake – anywhere – comes close. I won’t even mention the costs associated with that – but I guess it’s good for job security for some. Many qualified independent people and committees have stated the gap in year classes on the lake (the reason the young walleyes are not growing up in certain year classes) is caused by cannibalism of those year classes by the sheer numbers of big fish (that the DNR created with the protected slot limits) that are in the lake.

If the 2013 class of walleyes goes unchecked and without significant harvest it will put us back in a cycle Mille Lacs has experienced many times before in recent history despite all the studies – and even our own DNR admitting – that slots and cannibalism are the problem.

I read an article online from where DNR Big Lake Specialist Eric Jensen recently said “the walleye population on Mille Lacs has been declining since the late 90s when phosphorus levels in the lake started to get cleaned up.” He went on to say “that led to a chain reaction because with fewer nutrients pouring into the lake, there were fewer algae for small fish to eat, leading to a decline in game fish like walleye.” But contended “We’ve (Mille Lacs) had phenomenal catch rates out here, particularly the last several years. And that’s usually not an indication of how large the population is out here. A lot of anglers think that’s the case; unfortunately, it’s actually an indication of how hungry the fish frequently are.”

Sorry, not sorry, but I’m calling B.S. on that statement about the fishing being so good because the fish are hungry! Is he saying that we are all catching the same fish over and over and over because they’re hungry? That makes no sense, and if that’s the case, why aren’t the fish on any other lake that “hungry”? Are Mille Lacs walleyes especially ravenous that they eat more than the walleyes in other lakes? I’m probably preaching to the choir with this whole rant but if the population has indeed been “declining since the late 90’s” why is Mille Lacs hands down the best walleye lake in the state right now? There are more liberal limits on the other premier walleye lakes, but anglers struggle to fill them. Here, if the same rules applied it would be a gimme on most days.

So that begs the question, why are the DNR being told to spread this propaganda of untruths only about Mille Lacs? I’ve asked this before and I’ll ask again – who are we saving all these walleyes for with these drum-tight regulations? It’s not the Band – they take less than their allocation most years, it’s definitely not the anglers, so who? Governor Walz would you care to weigh in? Pun intended.

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