It’s been a little over a couple weeks since I wrote a bit about Lake Mille Lacs and the regulation changes that left a sour taste in some of the mouths of fishermen and local businesses that rely on tourism through much of the year. Public opinion varies greatly on the appropriateness of the DNR’s plan. Some see it as a necessary step in ensuring the walleye population can stabilize and continue to grow into the future. On the other hand, reports from fishermen, guides, and resorts around the lake claim that this past ice season was one of the in recent memory, and that the walleye population is not nearly in a dire condition as the DNR would have everyone believe.
As included in my previous post, here were a few of the changes included in the DNR’s original decision.
- Beginning on May 14th and running through December 1st, all walleyes must be immediately released
- All anglers targeting walleye must use artificial bait or lures
- Muskie and northern pike fisherman may use live or dead sucker minnows 8 inches or longer
- Night restrictions put in place for walleye anglers. No walleye angling between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. from Monday, May 16 through through December 1
- Muskie anglers may fish at night
Lake Mille Lacs is a very important lake for thousands of people, so it was just a matter of time before the DNR’s ruling was challenged by those with vested interests in the lake, including Minnesota lawmakers. While the DNR remained relatively firm on decision, it did make one succession that will likely quell some of the frustration that has arisen recently: live bait will be allowed by anglers targeting walleyes.
In my opinion, the main consideration behind this decision had to do more with the interests of fishermen in mind than the ultimate management goals of Lake Mille Lacs. By allowing live bait to be used, fishermen will have greater success and, in turn, more fun on the lake, even if they must throw every walleye they catch back. On the other hand, however, live bait is likely to result in a certain percentage of hooking mortality, or the percentage of fish that die from being caught, even if they are released. Fish are much more likely to fatally swallow a live night crawler or minnow versus an artificial lure. In this way, fish that would normally have survived under the previous “no live bait” regulation will likely die, negatively affecting the walleye population the DNR is trying to protect.
When it comes down to it, I think the DNR is making the right choice in allowing live bait to be used on Lake Mille Lacs. Yes, some fish will be fatally hooked and die shortly after being released, but the increased fishing success that goes along with using live bait may entice anglers who may have been on the fence about fishing on the lake. After all, catching fish is just as much fun as eating them. When fish are easier to catch, more people fish for them, and those people spend money at local resorts, restaurants, bait shops, and gas stations – all businesses that rely on tourism to survive.