Bass fishing on Mille Lacs: Lightning in a bottle?

I highly recommend you get to Lake Mille Lacs and get in on some of that phenomenal bass fishing before it’s gone. Many realized just how great this smallmouth bass fishery is because of the huge Bassmasters tournament on the lake that highlighted the incredible numbers of trophy fish present in the lake. Enjoy it while it lasts because in a few years the trophy smallmouth fishery will be a remnant of what it is today.

Very tight regulations that began in the year 2000 that did not allow for much harvest created this fishery. For years all fish under 21 inches had to be released back into the lake and only one over the minimum size limit could be kept. That all changed when the walleye numbers in the lake crashed. In 2013 the Department of Natural Resources allowed a limit of six bass with 17- to 20-inch fish released and only one over 20 in possession per angler. In 2014 that changed to  a six-fish limit and only one over 18 inches. In 2016 the regulation changed again to a limit of four, with only one bass over 21 inches. All bass 17-21 inches must be immediately released.

So, anglers began to keep bass, lots of them. Those bragging boards at the resorts that used to be full of walleyes are now loaded with smallmouth bass. There will be three small bass and then a 22-incher for each angler. The smallmouth bass has become the meat fish for Mille Lacs to soothe the high anxiety that afflicts resort owners around the lake who need to guarantee some fillets for vacationers.

This tournament that was just on Mille Lacs could not have been timed any better. They competed with the resource still at its peak. In a few years many of those huge bass that are in the system will have been caught and kept. The smaller fish that should be taking their place will also be gone due to angler harvest. The only fish left will be 17- to 20-inch fish, and they are fun to catch, but there won’t be as many of them because the smaller fish that would have grown into this size will be gone.

This is the nature of the beast. When you have restrictive regulations on a species, that species thrives. It exists in one of my favorite smallmouth fisheries, Chequamegon Bay, and it created what we now have in Mille Lacs. But start allowing harvest of these fish and it won’t be long before the anglers who have been using this resource for the past 15 years start saying, “Remember the good old days?”

The only solution is to return to the one-fish-over-21-inch rule. If that happens the great smallmouth fishing on Mille Lacs will continue. But maintain the current set of regulations and the tremendous bass fishing on this amazing lake will soon be nothing but a vision in the rear-view mirror.

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