|"The Bait Shop"|
...(3-24) As most of you have heard by now, the Mille Lacs open-water walleye season will be catch-and-release. Mostly. At least until Labor Day. Probably. In addition, the DNR announced this week in a press release that walleye fishing will close (no pursuit - no catch and release) for the period from July 7th to July 27th. "During that 21-day period, anglers can fish for all other species in Mille Lacs Lake including bass, muskies and northerns but only with artificial bait and lures. An exception exists for anglers targeting northern pike and muskellunge only, and who don’t possess walleye gear. Those anglers may possess and use live sucker minnows longer than 8 inches when fishing. The state's 2017 walleye allocation is 44,800 pounds. However, during discussions, state and Ojibwe tribal leadership established that the 2017 walleye season will remain open through 12:01 a.m., Sept. 5, provided the state harvest doesn't exceed a conservation cap of 55,800." It appears (although it isn't printed in the press release) that the walleye season would re-open (catch and release, live bait allowed) from 7-28 through Labor Day (9-4-17). I'm not sure why Labor Day became the official end of the walleye season on Mille Lacs, but this will be the 3rd year in a row (8-1-15, 9-6-16, 9-4-17) that Mille Lacs anglers get screwed out of fall walleye fishing. No catch and release, just a clear message to stay the #$%& away. Also, what about grandpa and the grandkids who want to go down on the dock with a box of crawlers to catch some perch or sunnies - sounds like this is off the table during the July "pause"?! And before your math gets away from you, remember that our "year" (from a harvest standpoint) begins December 1st. That means that the whopper winter season we had counts against the "quota" for the open water season. We were assessed about 1/3 of the annual take (according to fisheries section chief Don Pereira) leaving walleye anglers with +/- 29,000 pounds to work with - similar poundage to 2016.
While the Mille Lacs community didn't "invent" the concept of catch-and-release, we've been a conservation leader in Minnesota and beyond. From the groundbreaking, voluntary efforts of the 70's and 80's when most people considered fish a food source, to the 90's when the "1-over-20" sent some folks into a tizzy, to "harvest slots" and "release slots", to 4 inch slots and even 2 INCH SLOTS, to reduced bag limits, to lofty concepts like ""spawning stock biomass", "harvestable surplus", "Condition 3" (where overage = shutdown) and ultimately the dreaded "HOOKING MORTALITY" - the bane of reason - the scourge of Mille Lacs loyalists - paper fish, some call 'em. No, we didn't invent catch and release - but we didn't invent hooking mortality either... that's one that the DNR invented and shoved up our XXXXXX. We get a quota that, against the master plan of the Minnesota DNR and their alpha-partners, will allow "us" to fish walleye in Minnesota's premier fishery. A quota made up of fish that we can catch, but must release even though they might die after being released. Or they might not. Unless the water is too warm... like in July. Sometimes. Until later in July when it will cool off. Probably. Unless we've already surpassed the quota with dead "paper fish", in which case we'll need to stop anyway. Even though it's before Labor Day. Which is significant why? Because, right?! Just ask any 4-year-old. Because.
The quintessential Mille Lacs angler has tolerated (sometimes begrudgingly) this same crap sandwich (only on a different bun) year after year, and persevered to fish the lake that they love. I admire your conviction - I can't give it up either. But that doesn't make the sandwich any easier to swallow. Fish another species? Sometimes. Go birdwatching? Maybe by Spirit Island while we're whackin' walleyes! Try paddleboarding? Too fat. Hitting the beach? See paddleboarding. As anglers I think we've taken our "one-for-the-team" enough. We encourage everyone who may attend the Sports Show over the next few days to visit the DNR booth... I think it's important that they "feel the love" from all the Mille Lacs anglers.
This will be the last Weekend Outlook until things start to fire-up ahead of the opener. We sincerely thank all of our patrons and friends who helped make the winter season a success.
The 2017 fish and game licenses are due now. As of today, there are no regulation books for license agents to hand out to anglers. Hmmm...
Most of the remaining angling activity on Mille Lacs is concentrated in Vineland, Wahkon and Isle Bays. Each holds some decent northern action, and Wahkon and Isle also host some sunfish and crappie, All 3 species are found in 7-14 feet of water. Each bay can still be accessed. We no longer recommend vehicle traffic on Mille Lacs.
Some of you have encountered shortages of certain minnow species when you visited baitshops around the state again this season - we had some shortages in the Mille Lacs area on shiners for a while and more recently on "small" suckers. Some bait dealers have been trying to get the Minnesota Legislature to allow certified, disease-free baitfish import for several years now. To date, there has been enough pushback from the Minnesota DNR to stall any legislation. Simply put, our indigenous population of baitfish is not sufficient to supply Minnesota anglers, and access to "local" bait drops each year. Live bait isn't something that can be replaced by plastic worms from Walmart. Minnesota spends millions of dollars each year to attract people to our water-resources - let's keep 'em fishing. We've asked our readers to contact their legislators in the past on various issues... we're asking again. If you don't know what to write, you can paste the text below. If you don't know who your Senator and Representative are, you can enter your address into the box in this link; Who represents me?. The bill should be introduced 2-23-17 . "Our" biggest stumbling block will come from the DNR and ultimately Governor Dayton. If you like to fish with shiners, kindly consider emailing your senator and representative - again, if you've already done so. Also, an email (http://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/form/ ) and a call ( 800-657-3717) to the Governor's office to ask his support would give him some scope on this (other than the propaganda he gets from the DNR).
There will be a "minnow import bill" introduced this session. We've been working on this for years as a safe alternative to the dwindling population of indigenous baitfish (including, but not limited to shiners). The bill will include wording for "certified disease-free" baitfish/minnows, which would document the source of the baitfish to ONLY growers/producers/transporters that qualify and comply to specific health standards. Our native population of baitfish is not sufficient to supply Minnesota anglers, and access to "local" bait drops each year. Live bait isn't something that can be replaced by plastic worms from Walmart. Minnesota spends millions of dollars each year to attract people to our water-resources - let's keep 'em fishing.
I ask that you support this bill during this session.
...(3-10) We're STILL makin' ice! We woke up to a chilly -8 this morning, and it's not predicted to get above freezing until Thursday. There's still time to set some tip-ups for northern (Mille Lacs only) or chase a few perch. We didn't see much angling pressure this week, largely due to the extreme winds and cold temperatures. We did, however, see a handful of guys pre-fishing the NAIFC event in Isle and Wahkon Bays this weekend - they endured some pretty lousy conditions the past few days.
The MLFAC (Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee) group will meet with the MN. DNR Friday evening to get the verdict on the winter walleye harvest, safe harvestable surplus (quota), and any amendments to the already announced "catch-and-release" 2017 open-water season.
I spent this past Wednesday at the Capitol in St. Paul, testifying on SF1370 (minnow import bill) along with some minnow wholesalers. The committee seems supportive of this bill, although there is push-back from the Minnesota DNR. A few of the committee members remarked that they were contacted by their constituents regarding "the shiner thing". It makes a difference. Since Wednesday's session, the bill has been laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill.
The 2017 fish and game licenses are due now. As of today, there are still no regulation books for license agents to hand out to anglers.