I got to spend an afternoon on Lake Mille Lacs last week. Actually, it was for an assignment for The Catholic Spirit (my outdoors column). One of the highlights was a nice sunset. I was not able to take advantage of the amazing walleye bite of May and June, but talked to someone who did.
Father Troy Przybilla got out on the water a number of times earlier this summer and confirmed that the action was blazing hot. On the flip side, keeper fish were very hard to come by. In about 10 or 12 trips, he managed to catch just two keepers outside of the 17- to 28-inch protected slot. He caught a bunch that were just beyond the 17-inch mark.
I had felt frustrated about not being able to join the ranks of anglers who capitalized on the sizzling bite, but far less so after hearing about the lack of keepers. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy catching walleyes, but I like having at least a few for the frying pan.
There was a similar problem on Upper Red Lake back when it reopened to walleye fishing in 2006, but it wasn’t nearly this bad. If you fished long enough, you eventually caught your two fish under 17 inches. There were lots of fish in all size ranges, so you just had to keep at it until you found the keepers.
Now, it appears as though there aren’t many keepers in Mille Lacs. So, if it’s a shore lunch you want, Lake Lacs may not be the place to go.
Father Przybilla thinks it’s time for the DNR to modify the harvest rules for walleyes. He suggested a total inch count for walleyes, with anglers able to keep fish of any size, as long as the total inch count doesn’t exceed a certain number.
I like his idea, in terms of balancing the size of fish taken. When you have both sport anglers and Indian tribes targeting small fish, it stands to reason that, at some point, the number of those fish will go down.
In this case, it appears as if it’s going way down. I like the rule they had on Lake of the Woods about eight or nine years ago. You could keep six walleyes, with only one over 20 inches. My friend, Pete Wolney, and I went up in the fall the last year of that rule, and had an absolute walleye bonanza. We each took one fish home between 20 and 21 inches, plus several that were in the 19 1/2-inch range.
Now, you can keep four walleyes, and none between 19 1/2 and 28 inches. That still leaves plenty of fish to keep, and Pete and I have no trouble catching our limit of keepers, as long as the weather doesn’t mess things up.
Lake of the Woods is in good shape, but Mille Lacs has an imbalanced walleye population. I hope the DNR can figure out a way to correct the problem.
I think it’s time to let anglers start keeping at least a few of the bigger fish. Some of those fish are dying after being caught. Why not let anglers keep some of them, rather than feed them to the seagulls?