Friday, February 7, 2014

Fishing Report and Update as of 2/7/14

This has been the most stable week we have had this year.  Note, I said stable, not warm.  At least, we have not had snow or high winds so for the first week this winter, we did not have to plow all of our roads and driveways.

Fishing remains unchanged.  It has not gotten better or worse.  I think that until we get an extended warmer period, what you see is what you get.  They are seeing and getting some perch in 27 - 28' and some walleyes and northern are biting along Agate Bay Reef.  It is just not consistent in any area.  

I would like to address the new harvest quota, the DNR and the "sky is falling" attitude I hear everywhere.

Last summer, after the ice finally went out, we had a decent bite on keeper fish (18 - 20") thru about the end of June.  The larger fish also bit quite well thru the same time frame.  Once the young of the year perch reached the size where they were good forage for the walleyes, the bite slowed dramatically.  It has stayed slower all the way thru the winter.  I believe this slow bite is caused by the vast numbers of small perch and, as I said earlier, the cold fronts every other day.  The walleyes remain in the lake.  They are just not hungry.

The DNR and the band have agreed on a very low harvest quota for next year in an effort to protect the larger spawning fish and the fewer smaller fish that will enter the 14 - 18' range.  They say, however, that we probably can keep the same slot regulations as what we had last year.  People have reacted as if the "sky is falling" and I do not understand this.

To me, we are better off than we have been for a few years.  The DNR finally has addressed the problem of juvenile survival of walleyes.  They have shown an appreciation of the problem and are putting time and resources to work to solve the problem.  They are asking for outside help which I think is huge.  When have they ever admitted that they may not have all the answers.  I doubt that the solution will be easy but I have confidence that the DNR can solve it, now that they are facing the issue.

In addition, I believe that there are more walleyes out there than most people think there are.  The band had almost no harvest last spring and the harvest last summer was low, especially if you discount the DNR's "hooking mortality" numbers which I do.  I think that is the most wild guess there is related to Mille Lacs.  This winter, we have not hurt the population any.  So for a whole year we have not taken a lot of walleyes, at least compared to past years.  We have taken very few of the walleyes over 20" so basically, all of them are still out there.  Why do we not see them or get them to bite?  A LOT OF FORAGE.

So many people believe the bite is dependent on the number of walleyes in the lake when really, forage availability is a much bigger factor.  The walleyes do not have to concentrate on the rock piles looking for food.  It is almost everywhere in the lake.  For the same reason, the remaining walleyes may not have concentrated in the few areas where the DNR sets their test nets.  Why should they?  There is food everywhere.

So... are we worse off now because we have a fantastic hatch of little perch which should protect our larger than normal, healthier than normal walleye hatch from last spring and let them grow bigger, as well as, hopefully give us a perch population to catch is 3 - 4 years?  Or were we better off a few years ago when the walleyes bit like crazy because they were starving and when you caught one, their mouths were all torn up from multiple catch & releases?

Are we better off now that we are a high priority for the DNR and everyone is watching them so they have some pressure to succeed?  Or were we better off when no one other than Mille Lacs people seemed to care?

Mille Lacs has always had ups and downs, generally in a five to seven year cycle.  This is because we are a natural reproduction lake with no walleye stocking.  I think this is an unusually low low but we have had some years with pretty low harvests.  I think the high forage will impact the bite for a little while but the large walleyes will bite again.  It will be a lot of catch & release and that is not a bad thing.  If you want to have a lot of fun and help the lake, take a few hours each weekend and go catch northerns and smallmouth bass.  Keep anything that is legal and cook it up.  You will be surprised how good they taste and how much fun it is.