ISLE, Minn. (WCCO) — After the state abruptly ended walleye fishing season on Lake Mille Lacs, there’s a new push to promote bass fishing there.
Gov. Mark Dayton was fishing for bass Saturday after visiting Hunters Resort in Isle. This past week, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also loosened some bass fishing restrictions on the lake. They’re hoping to attract more tournaments and potential visitors to the Mille Lacs area.
The DNR says the lake is known as one of the top 10 bass fishing lakes in the country. Since the lake has always been known for its walleye, officials are promoting bass with the hopes of helping local businesses who are suffering from the crisis.
Resort owner Justin Baldwin says this weekend has been busy, considering the walleye season has already ended.
“We’ve also got a bass tournament going on,” he said. “There’s about 25 or 26 boats out fishing today.”
Baldwin says a typical walleye tournament would’ve drawn in 60 boats to the lake.
“I wouldn’t lie and say it hasn’t affected us, because it has,” he said. “Walleye is a major factor on this lake, and a lot of people come up to walleye fish.”
Baldwin’s family-owned resort has been around for 20 years. He thinks they can weather this storm while his newest guest, Gov. Dayton, says he’s working on a walleye solution.
“We have $2 billion on the bottom line,” Gov. Dayton said. “We can reach into our pocket and help out people in need.”
Gov. Dayton says he’s hoping to use state surplus money to call a special session and work on a $20 million aid package for lake businesses. He also spoke about plans to stock Lake Mille Lacs with new walleye for anglers to enjoy.
“Three years ago, the limit was 500,000 pounds. This year it’s 40,000, so it’s just a drastic drop in fish according to the count that the DNR uses,” Gov. Dayton said. “We stocked Leech Lake when it was in need, we stocked Red Lake when it was almost out of walleye. So there is precedent for doing it.”
The governor will have to convince senate and house leaders to call the special session. He says they’ll be in talks this week about a timeframe.
Before plans for stocking the lake can begin, Gov. Dayton says he’s more concerned with immediate aid local business owners. Still, he says the state can’t afford to wait any longer to stock the lake, so he’s hoping to start this spring.