The New Mille Lacs Plan: A Closer Look

By Dick Sternberg on behalf of PERM

Most Mille Lacs anglers and business interests view the new management plan as a step in the right direction. The new regulations will allow fishermen to keep a larger percentage of the walleyes they catch, thereby reducing the hooking mortality that upset so many anglers during the 2002 season. But even though the plan is certainly more angler-friendly, many are wondering if it will help correct the fish population imbalances
that currently exist. This report will evaluate the plan s pros and cons.

The Underlying Problem

During the 2002 fishing season, Mille Lacs anglers enjoyed the bite of a lifetime. With the lake s baitfish population at an all-time low, fishermen caught walleyes at ten times the normal rate, prompting the DNR to dub the phenomenon a 10X bite. But the lack of forage during the early part of the season left the walleyes in extremely poor condition. Most fish were 20 to 30 percent underweight and some of the larger fish were close to 50 percent underweight. Many of the 28-inch plus walleyes brought into fishing tournaments weighed 5 to 6 pounds and one 29-incher registered 4.73 pounds.

As the season progressed, it became apparent that there had been a good perch hatch, despite the scarcity of adult perch. The smaller walleyes soon regained much of the weight they had lost, but the larger ones showed little improvement. Evidently, the young perch were not enough to sustain the bigger walleyes and the larger perch and tullibees that they normally eat were in very short supply.

By late June, fishermen were reporting an alarming number of dead walleyes either floating or washed up on shore. Anglers using underwater cameras also saw large numbers of dead walleyes on the bottom. Because of the narrow slot and shortage of walleyes within that slot, anglers had to catch from 20 to 40 walleyes for every one they could keep. With the water warming and that many fish being released, hooking mortality was bound to be high. But with the fish being so hungry, they were taking the bait even deeper than normal, lowering the chances of a successful release. And the fact that many of the fish were in a weakened condition no doubt reduced the survival rate even more.

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