By Dave Orrick Pioneer Press 03/25/14

Night fishing on Lake Mille Lacs will be banned nearly all year this season, The ban — the most stringent ever employed on the lake — is among several changes announced by the DNR as it grapples with a declining walleye population in Mille Lacs.

But some resort owners and guides were outraged:

  • “It’s like a dagger to the economy up here,” said Bill Eno, owner of Twin Pines Resort in Garrison.
  • “They’re going to have to figure something else out because this is blowing up right now,” muskie guide Jason Hamernick said. “My phone won’t stop with calls and texts.”

Slow year for walleye

Given those tight restrictions, as well as an increasing amount of baitfish for the walleyes to eat, fisheries biologists believe the action will be slow this year for walleye, a trend that began this winter when ice anglers reported finding fish on sonar but having difficulty coaxing them to bite.

Still, DNR officials said they couldn’t risk having too many fish taken.

The problem of Mille Lacs walleye is that for several years, they have not been surviving into adulthood, and scientists are trying understand why.

Treaties complicating matters

Complicating matters are treaties with Indian tribes that have rights to take fish from the lake. Biologists say only 60,000 pounds of walleye can be safely taken from Mille Lacs, including 42,900 pounds by non-tribal anglers. That’s the lowest safe harvest level enacted under the modern treaty regimen.

But they know the night ban will be painful.

Eno said 75 percent of his business is evening launch cruises for walleye. He said he’ll redo his schedules, but he’s particularly worried about weekend anglers from the Twin Cities. Nobody can get off work Friday and make it up here by then from the Cities.”

Hamernick said all of his muskie bookings involve an evening component — often casting until past midnight — because muskies on Mille Lacs bite better when the sun is low or down. “This is terrible,” he said. “This’ll push a lot of muskie guys to other lakes.”

Muskie anglers catch few walleyes, but Pereira said it would be too difficult to enforce a selective night ban. As such, nobody will be allowed on the lake with any fishing gear aboard after 10 p.m.

Read More