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Mille Lacs restrictions will keep anglers away

By now most anglers have heard about all the concerns and controversy surrounding the famed Mille Lacs Lake situation. A few weeks ago, I wrote about some of the proposals being discussed and indicated I would pass along the info once the DNR decisions about the lake have been made. Well, on March 25, the limit and slot decisions were made regarding the upcoming season.

The walleye per person daily and possession limit and the size harvest will remain the same as last year. Only two walleyes are allowed and the slot for harvested fish will be 18-20 inches. One walleye over 28 inches can be taken if a person desires keeping a trophy sized fish. All walleyes under 18 inches and 20 inches or over and up to 28 inches must be released. The fish must touch 18 inches with a pinched tail and cannot touch 20 inches. To be accurate with the two inch harvest slot, the fish should be measured on a bump board. It is also important to remember that fish can either tense up or relax in a livewell (depending on conditions), so error on the side of caution and make sure they bump slightly over 18” and it is best to make sure they are not any longer than 19 7/8 inches, just to be on the safe side. If you keep a trophy, make sure the pinched tail goes slightly past the 28” mark on the bump board. Personally, I would like to see people CPR (catch, photo, release) the trophy sized walleyes and let someone else have a chance to CPR the fish as well, but it is a person’s legal right to keep a walleye over 28 inches.

Do keep in mind that if you want a fish mount of that trophy, taxidermists can do a replica of your fish if you have a length and picture.

Other significant decisions about the slot and harvest for Mille Lacs include this year’s northern pike and smallmouth bass regulations. Anglers will be able to keep ten northern pike, one which one may be longer than 30 inches. This increases the daily limit by seven fish. The season for harvesting northern pike will also be extended to the last Sunday in March of 2015. The northern pike spearing ban will also be removed.

Smallmouth bass limits will be relaxed and the season will also be extended. The season for smallmouth bass on Mille Lacs will open May 10, and the regulation from the statewide catch and release that goes into effect in mid-September will be lifted. Anglers may harvest smallmouth from the opener until the last Sunday in February. You will be allowed to keep six smallmouth, of which one may be over 18 inches. The previous harvest regulation allowed for six fish, but none could be between 17-20” and allowed for one over 20 inches. The previous state bass regulations for start and end dates also applied on the lake before the implementation of the new regulations.

Another major change to be aware of for this year will be the night ban on the lake. Years ago, Mille Lacs implemented a night ban for fishing on the lake from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. that ended the middle of June. This year the night ban will start on Monday May 12, and will be extended through Monday December 1. Make sure you get off the lake by 10 p.m. and don’t get started on the lake until 6 a.m. Don’t try to fudge the rules by getting out earlier and “graphing” or other excuses that could create a problem for yourself. Just stay off the lake when it is closed to fishing.

The angling harvest for walleyes off Mille Lacs has been set at 42,900 pounds. I don’t believe it will take the whole summer to reach that very small harvest poundage for the lake. I would look for regulations regarding the walleye harvest to change in the middle of the open water season.

The northern pike and smallmouth bass anglers will have a big year on the big lake. These walleye regulations will keep many walleye anglers that have enjoyed fishing Mille Lacs for years away from the lake. I am glad I guide our area lakes and am not a full time guide on Mille Lacs!

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)