ISLE, Minn. (WCCO) — With just a month to go until the statewide fishing opener, anglers who fish lake Mille Lacs received more disappointing news.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources released the 2015 fishing regulations for Mille Lacs, which cuts the bag limit on walleye in half.READ MORE: Brother Fatally Shoots Sister Inside Chanhassen Home
Because of a serious decline in the lake’s walleye population, anglers are only allowed to keep a single fish — down from a two-walleye-per-day-bag limit in 2014.
The single fish will have to fit in a slot between 19 and 21 inches. However, anglers would be allowed to keep a walleye measuring greater than 28 inches.
Lingering cold still has Mille Lacs locked in an icy grip. But the appearance of open water along shorelines signals another summer of fishing.
For bait store owner Bill Lundeen, it’s another season selling tackle and bait.
“Can we live with it? I’m not sure we have a choice but to live with it,” Lundeen said.
For 25 years, the Lundeens have operated Tackle Castle, parked along the popular lake’s southern shore. But ever-tightening walleye regulations are making it tougher for Lundeen and many others — resorts, guides and even gas stations — to stay in business.
“This used to be the fun place to go and we want it to be the fun place, but when we’ve got stuff like this hanging over our heads, you know, some of that fun gets sucked out of it,” Lundeen said.
Blame it on the lowest walleye population the DNR has seen in the past 40 years. To assure the lake’s prime sport fish are not over-harvested to the point of depletion, the agency is dropping the safe allowable harvest limits.READ MORE: Missing Person: Douglas Paul Schroeder
Last season that number was set at 60,000 pounds. In 2015, it will drop to the lowest limit ever, 40,000 pounds, to be shared between sport anglers and eight bands of Ojibwe Native Americans.
In addition, the DNR will ban night fishing for walleye beginning May 11, just two days after the state’s fishing opener.
Marine dealer Eddie Lyback says the area’s mood has gone from disappointment to depression.
“Everything that happens on the lake reflects around the lake eventually,” Lyback said. “And the people up here need anglers coming and using this lake.”
Biologists cite walleye eggs that hatch into fingerlings but then don’t survive into adult fish. It’s possibly due to a combination of factors, ranging from too many larger predator fish like northern pike, to the effects of Native American netting during spring spawning season.
There is also a chance the decline is due in part on the effects of climate change or the elevated water clarity brought about by zebra mussels. Nothing is out of the question.
“You’ve identified the problem, let’s start working on a solution, but we’re not seeing that solution,” Lundeen said.
Unlike the night ban last summer, the DNR will allow night fishing for muskie. But it will require anglers to use only bait and lures that are longer than eight inches, which will protect walleye from being unintended targets.MORE NEWS: Mayor Frey Speaks With North Minneapolis Community Members Saying They're Fed Up With Recent Surge Of Gun Violence
The state will also continue efforts to re-brand and market the area for tourism that goes beyond just walleye fishing.