GARRISON, MINN. – Some of the most restrictive fishing regulations Minnesota anglers have ever seen could be imposed on Lake Mille Lacs this summer to reduce the walleye harvest on the state’s most popular walleye lake.
Among the possibilities: A 2-inch harvest slot, a ban on night fishing and perhaps restrictions on the use of certain hooks and jigs.
Whichever alternatives are selected, anglers will get to keep fewer of the lake’s prized walleyes. Local business owners fear that will mean fewer customers come spring.
Department of Natural Resources officials were to discuss the options Wednesday night with two dozen members of the Mille Lacs Input Group, a consortium of area resort owners, boat shops and others businesses.
They were told the DNR is proposing to relax regulations for smallmouth bass and northerns, to perhaps reduce predation of smaller walleyes, while also providing anglers with fish for the fry pan.
The DNR, local businesses and anglers find themselves with few options. Concerned over the lake’s declining walleye population — the lowest in 40 years — state officials earlier this winter slashed the lake’s 2013 “safe” walleye harvest by sports anglers in half to 178,750 pounds. The quota for the eight Chippewa bands also was halved, to 71,250 pounds. That 250,000 pounds is the lowest safe harvest quota since the state and Chippewa bands established them in 1997.
A 2-inch harvest slot — 17 to 19 inches, 18 to 20 inches or 19 to 21 inches — is likely to be the foundation of the new regulations. Anglers could only keep walleyes within that slot. A four-fish bag limit probably would be retained, with one fish allowed over 20 inches.
But DNR biologists estimate that a 2-inch harvest slot still would result in a walleye harvest, including hooking mortality, of around 200,000 pounds — well over the state’s allotment.
“So we would need to add some other things to get us below our allocation to avoid a mid-season regulation change,’’ said Tom Jones, DNR large lake specialist.
That could include a ban on night fishing, an especially popular and lucrative activity for commercial boat launches. In recent years, a month-long night ban began at 10 p.m. after the fishing opener. If a season-long night ban is imposed, it could begin as early as 8 p.m., Jones said.
Other possible options: Restrictions on the use of live bait, possibly during June and July, when hooking mortality is highest. Another option: Requiring the use of circle hooks, and banning regular hooks or jigs, which also could reduce hooking mortality.
Currently, four walleyes under 17 inches are allowed, with one fish over 28 inches.