Stop the Mille Lacs blame game and fix the fishery

I am not a fisheries biologist, but I am opinionated. And in my opinion this situation we are dealing with regarding Lake Mille Lacs right now began when the nets started entering the lake. The walleye netting is the catalyst that started all the special regulations that have resulted in this debacle that now has everyone looking for answers where few exist. 

The reason few answers exist is because it’s hard to please everyone. The anglers are mad because they are stuck to a slim slot with low limits. The tribe is mad because they keep getting blamed for this mess when it is not entirely their fault. The community around the lake that needs walleye fishing to remain economically viable is angry because they may lose their livelihood because no one wants to make tough decisions. The DNR gets blamed because – like the tribes – they get blamed, too.

Tough decisions are necessary because the walleye fishery has tanked. The biologists are looking at this through scientific eyes when we should be making decisions through economic eyes. 

Why close walleye fishing? It would seem the biologists are afraid the lake may reach a tipping point where natural reproduction won’t produce a good year class of walleyes.

OK, then stock. The majority of the lakes in Minnesota that have walleyes have them because they are stocked. There should be a joint venture between the tribes and the DNR to heavily stock Mille Lacs each year. 

But reproduction is good we’re told. So open fishing to keeping everything over 24 inches and releasing the rest. Droves of anglers would hightail it to Mille Las to catch a limit – which should be six – of big bruisers for the supper table. The resorts and casino would be happy.

But then that would knock down the spawning females. Then stock, in a partnership with the bands.

Leech, Red and other lakes have had to have some heavy transfusions of walleyes to keep the population going. It’s time now to lose some of those big walleyes that are eating all the small ones and begin implementing a stocking program with heavy tribal involvement. If the tribe doesn’t want to get involved, then make them net in October.

While you’re at it, make muskie and smallmouth catch and release only. It took years to build that trophy smallmouth fishery, but now, we’re keeping them and destroying a true trophy smallmouth fishery. What a terrible waste.

Get rid of the small pike too. Release all pike over 30 inches. Keep 10 under that. 

These are tough decisions, but they are from an economic standpoint. To heck with the biology. I don’t care what’s going on under the surface of the water. I care about the resorts and the anglers and I even care about the tribes, even though it was their nets that started this whole debacle. I firmly believe the tribe’s participation in a joint stocking effort would create a lot of blue sky for them.

So quit worrying about being branded racist, and point the finger at what started this mess: the nets, then do something to protect the businesses that rely on Mille Lacs. Open up the season for big walleyes, shut down the take for smallmouth and muskies, and kill a bunch of those small pike. Decide later if netting during the spawning season is as stupid as it sounds and modify that approach if necessary.

In the long run everyone wins.

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