Update: Lake Mille Lacs

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.

 

The Chippewa: One of Minnesota’s Wonders

Minnesota is a state as ecologically diverse as its 5.4 million people. Nearly every imaginable terrain can be found within its borders, from corn fields to native prairie grasslands, steep bluffs to low valleys, and wide and deep lakes and rivers to small creeks and swamps. For Minnesota’s outdoorsmen and women, it is about as perfect of a state as you will find anywhere.

One of the features that I am always in most awe of, however, is the millions of acres of pure, unadulterated timber that can be found through much of northern Minnesota. I enjoy driving forest roads that are only just wide enough for a ATV or truck. Camping is also an important activity for me, and living in Northern Minnesota, one particular area always amazes me in terms of its size, wildlife, and history.

The Chippewa National Forest has the distinction of being one of the largest and well-known public forest lands not only in Minnesota, but the United States as well. Originally established as the Minnesota Forest Reserve in 1902, today’s Chippewa National forest covers nearly 1.6 million acres of land and water.

Visitors to the forest will find no shortage of things to do, see, and explore.

Camping is a mainstay for visitors, and the Chippewa offers campsites of nearly every kind imaginable. Both developed and primitive campsites are available throughout the forest. Fishing, hunting, and hiking are also maintains in this area.

To read more about the Chippewa National Forest, click here.

Big Changes for Popular MN Lake

If you’ve been following Minnesota news, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the new sweeping fishing regulations facing one of Minnesota’s premier fishing lakes, Lake Mille Lacs.

I’ve outlined the major changes below facing walleye anglers:

  • 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

(How the live bait/night restriction is going to stop shifty  fisherman from dangling a monster sucker minnow in front a hungry 30″ plus walleye cruising the shallows at midnight is beyond me, but I’m sure it won’t be as big of a problem as I imagine)

Walleye anglers are not the only ones looking at changes, with slight bag limit changes for northern pike and bass.

 

Let me preface everything I’m about to say by saying that I have never fished Mille Lacs, and have only seen  the massive lake once from Highway 169 when I decided to take a detour on my way to Bemidji one fall my freshman year. I don’t know a lot of the lake’s history or the intrinsic value that the lake has for those who live near or vacation on the lake each year. But at the same time, I consider myself a person who understands the value and importance of the state’s natural resources.

For me, the regulation changes on Mille Lacs were inevitable, and the right choice for the fishery and the fishermen who frequent the lake. Walleye populations in the lake have been consistently falling for the past several years, and when the #1 most targeted game fish in the lake is threatened in any way whatsoever, the right decision is to do whatever necessary to protect them.

And while fisherman, resort owners, and fishing guides are understandably nervous about what the news means for them, I think it is important to realize that Lake Mille Lacs is not just a walleye lake, and to think that the lake’s resorts and guides will go into a tailspin because clients will not longer be able to keep a limit of walleyes is a bit over dramatic. The lake has incredible fishing opportunities for smallmouth bass, muskie, and northern pikes besides walleyes, and these species are traditionally under appreciated in most lakes in which there is good walleye fishing. While walleyes are king in Mille Lacs (and in my own heart as well), I think  nearly anyone would agree that fighting a 45″ muskie, 40″ northern, or a four pound smallmouth is just as much, if not more, intense than a typical 20″ walleye.

In short, fishermen will just have to plan on targeting other species if they’d like a meal of fresh fish, something that the lake’s excellent populations of pike and perch will be more than capable of providing while the lake’s walleye fishery has an opportunity to rebound.

To read more about the new regulations facing Lake Mille Lacs, click here.

 

 

Rebirth (and auger maintenance)

Minnesota is slipping further and further out of the grasp of old man winter.

I’ve spent most of today closing the chapter on my 2015-2016 ice fishing season by finally giving attention to the dirty, damaged, and neglected ice fishing equipment that has been riding in the back of my truck all winter.

For those like me who are always interested in reading about how others maintain their equipment for the off-season, I thought I would make a post outlining a few of the post-season rituals that I like to go through after the ice goes out in Spring.

First, I always add the recommended amount of fuel stabilizer in my auger’s gas tank and then proceed to run the auger for 5-10 minutes. This step is a win-win: not only does it ensure that the fuel treatment finds its way throughout the engine and carburetor, but it lets me have one final whiff of 2-stroke engine exhaust before I retire it for the summer.

After running the engine for a bit, I drain the excess fuel into a one gallon gas can to store for the summer. While some prefer not to do this step, and prefer to properly dispose of the gas instead of keeping around, I find that as long as the fuel is treated properly and stored in a dark garage it stays good enough to use the next year. At this point I also remove and wash the air filter with warm, soapy water. The carburetor is then cleaned out and inspected. A once-over of the engine’s external plastic housing with wet, soapy rag removes any oil build-up or exhaust residue.

I also like to oil the auger blades to prevent rusting, remove the shaft from the engine, and store them in the garage, away from summer’s powerful sun.

After the auger is put away, I then move on to my portable ice house. For me at least, the first order of business is to soak up all the water and spilled gas that always seems to collect at the bottom of the sled. Then I normally try to grease up the support poles, always looking for areas where a pole may be bent or close to breaking. To keep mice and other rodents from chewing holes in the canvas tarp, and I cover the house well before storing it away in the garage.

Lastly, fishing poles, slush scoops, bait buckets, and scoop shovels find their way to their respective haunts to hibernate until next December.

It’s a bittersweet day. On one hand, the warm, spring-like temperatures sweeping their way through Minnesota makes me excited for what is to come. On the other hand, ice fishing is one of my favorite outdoor pastimes and I hate to see it go by as quickly as it always seems to.

I’ll get over it, though. Large numbers of waterfowl – especially Canada geese and mallards, continue to move through the state at a very steady space. I can hear flocks of geese passing over the house heading towards the large wetland southeast of town as I write this post from my parent’s living room. Robins and red-wing blackbirds are seemingly everywhere, calling from the tree branches. The grass is starting to green up everywhere I look, and I can’t imagine it will be long before the Oak trees start producing their green leaves.

The cold harshness of Minnesota’s winters, while enjoyable, always lead to a magical time of life and rebirth – Spring.

Self Portrait, Pt. 1

As part of this week’s assignment, we are asked to write 2-3 posts detailing a bit of who we are and explore how our identities shape our online presence. Reading more about the assignment and what is expected, I became more and more excited. I have a wide variety of interests and ideas and am excited to demonstrate how three distinct self-portraits can give my readers a unique perspective on who I am.

So, starting off. Continue reading “Self Portrait, Pt. 1”

Hot fishing on cold Red Lake

A group of five of my good friends and I have talked about starting an annual fishing tradition for a few years now. Until this year, busy schedules simply did not allow for it. This year, come hell or high water, it was decided that the inaugural Red Lake fishing trip was GOING to happen.

So, this past weekend five of us piled into a truck and pulled one of my good friend’s converted camper (obviously with most creative paint scheme in the area…) one hour north to Upper Red Lake to spend the weekend catching up and catching fish.

Prior to the weekend, it was decided that the six of us wouldn’t possibly fit into the single fish house, so rented an Ice Castle from Red Lake Ice Cabins (great group of guys to deal with).

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Fish Camp 2016

Despite the cold temperatures (-30 degrees), we stayed warm and caught plenty of fish over the course of the two days (for those interested, 5:30pm – 8:30pm was the hottest bite, and glow rattle spoons were the ticket all weekend). A trip was made to West Wind Resort for burgers and brews Saturday night, Borat and We’re the Millers was watched (and quoted endlessly), and memories shared among a group of friends who have been there for each other throughout their college days at Bemidji State.

 

One image that I don’t think will ever get old for me is looking off into the horizon on the frigid, clear nights on Red Lake and seeing the lights of hundreds, if not thousands, of fish houses sparkling in the distance. It is truly a mesmerizing sight, and for me, a great reminder of why I chose Bemidji State in the first place and why I hope to stay in the Bemidji area after graduation.

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Why yes, that is our friendly plastic snowman mascot. Name TBD.

We’re already making plans for next years’ trip to Red Lake, and I cannot wait to continue the annual tradition.

Until next time.

-ES