Mille Lacs Lake is missing its annual horde of walleye fishermen.
Mille Lacs, a central Minnesota lake near the town of Brainerd, is known far and wide as a walleye fishing haven. There's just one problem, no one's fishing for walleye there this summer.
The Star Tribune recently reported that walleye anglers are avoiding the lake in record numbers, which is affecting not only the local fishing economy, but the psyche of anglers in the state as well.
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"There's just no drive to go up there anymore," said Josh Tosney, a resident of Minnesota and avid angler. "The slot's so small, and it's not really worth it."
The slot Tosney referred to is the 18-20 inch regulation for walleye, which is the same as last year's restriction. Only two walleye between those measurements, with one longer than 28 inches, may be kept per angler.
One difference from last year to 2014 is the ban on night fishing, which restricts anglers from being on the lake from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
"I think our DNR has mismanaged our lake," said Pat Gibbons, another Minnesota angler who has been making multiple summer trips from his Twin City suburban home to Mille Lacs since his childhood. "They've tried to turn what's been a trophy walleye lake into a muskie trophy lake, and a smallmouth trophy lake. There's just too many big fish in the lake, and all the big fish are now eating the spawning, or younger fish."
Gibbons believes Native American fish netting allowances, along with the night fishing ban, are partially to blame as well.
"Personally, I'm not a night fisherman, but I do know that the launches are taking a beating," he said, referring to the 70-year old tradition of group fishing boats that hold up to 50 people at a time. "Some people thrive on night fishing, and now you're told you can't? You're going somewhere else, believe me."
In an ironic twist, the factors that are keeping walleye anglers off Mille Lacs may also be helping keep the fish's numbers up. It's not that they aren't there, they just aren't being caught.
The Star Tribune said 112,000 pounds of walleye were caught and released in May and June, while 134,000 pounds of smallmouth bass had been released since the fishing opener on May 10, 2014.
Gibbons said he's even seeing advertisements in the outdoor news outlets he reads for smallmouth and muskie fishing on Mille Lacs, and fewer businesses promoting their walleye offerings.
"I hope that the businesses are able to get some of those anglers up there," he said, "because there are some beauties in both categories."
Since this year's opener, Gibbons has been to Mille Lacs four weekends, including three in a row. "We weren't catching many fish, and the fish we caught weren't in the slot," he said. Basically he told us it's just "not that exciting to go up there."
He does cite a "goofy" spring as another possibly for the low angling numbers, but that it's "frustrating," especially as the season goes on.
When asked if he trusts the Minnesota DNR to manage the lake's fishing status, Gibbons said "You can't have a trophy lake with all these different types of predator fish in them, and not think you're going to have some problems younger year classes getting chowed up."
In Gibbons' mind, he's not sure what the future holds. "I do have faith in the DNR that they can turn this around, but I think it's going to be five or so years... I can't want five years for this to turn around. I don't want to wait five years."
What's your take? Do you think the walleye fishing days on Mille Lacs are numbered?
Featured image via mnland.org