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home : columns : columns May 25, 2016

3/6/2013 9:38:00 AM
Mille Lacs walleye collapse, another big Minnesota story

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

There is just no end to really big outdoor stories in Minnesota over the last year or so. The closing of moose hunting season and the opening of wolf hunting were the biggest to me. I personally think they were more than just coincidental and therefore wrote about them recently in the content of probably the biggest of Minnesota's outdoor situations.
Along with that outdoor headline would go the recent drought, invasive species of many kinds, the pheasant problems in southwest Minnesota, our inability to raise ducks in Minnesota and now the news that the Mille Lacs Lake 2013 walleye season will be markedly impacted by the decline in numbers of walleye.
Just as sure as you can be that the Minnesota Vikings, Twins and Gophers will be quarterbacked Monday morning, you can also be assured that management of our fish, game and all outdoor resources will be also. A few will criticize this pre or post "game" analysis by supposed amateurs but I say that is a big part of being Minnesotan. No apologies needed.
Couch coaches and bar stool biologists have always been a big part of the enjoyment of sports, whether indoor or outdoor, so why not embrace them. Because, sometimes the pros are right and sometimes the amateurs are. For sure, without the coffee, a roll and some analysis, half or more of the fun would be lost.
Big lake walleyes
So, here we go. Is it the invasion of zebra mussels, the failure of protective slot limits, catch and release mortality, spring netting by natives or just over fishing that has caused the walleye "colony collapse" on the big lake? Maybe even, all the above.
No doubt, the big lake has lots of fishing pressure. The last time I was there, a bit over 10 years ago, I actually spent more time at the Native American museum than at the lake itself. The casino? I didn't stop. Nonetheless, in my driveby, it could easily be seen that the economy is driven by walleye fishing.
Because of that, restrictions on fishing have had to be enacted. Daily limits, possession limits, size limits and slot restrictions have been put in place. And, if I remember correctly, even night time fishing was halted for a year to prevent over fishing.
Some say the slot restrictions are part of the problem. They have resulted in an over harvest of the smaller males in their opinion.
They go on to say that this has resulted in more floaters being seen on the lake. Floaters are dead fish released by fisherman because they were illegal to keep and eat. Seriously injured by the hooking, they die when released into the lake and later float to the surface.
Unlike large mouth bass that are tougher and usually caught in the lips by artificial lures, most walleyes are caught by live bait fishers. The live bait hook is not "set" as quickly and the fish commonly swallow the bait and hook. More seriously injured, they have a much lower rate of survival than bass.
Superimpose those problems with the situation of Native Americans fishing by net during the spring spawning and you have a serious problem. Many feel this is the biggest problem of all.
Nylon nets, aluminum boats, outboard motors and big pontoons aren't exactly "old ways" of taking fish by the natives. When done on big females full of spawn it is really open to criticism. But, they say, the Treaty of 1837 gave them the right to hunt and fish there according to their own rules. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that right after long, lengthy and expensive court proceedings in 1999.
Myself? I say look at Lake of the Woods and Red Lake for guidance to solve the problem. The Red Lake fishery collapsed due to unrestricted native netting and our Minnesota DNR had to step in with proper management and restore it.
Lake of the Woods was once upon a time reduced to a shambles for sport fishermen. I can remember well the west side of that huge lake being dominated by commercial walleye netters. We observed them many times as we flew over Lake of the Woods to fish the Canadian side where netting wasn't allowed and the fishing was good.
Minnesota's DNR negotiated a buyout of those commercial fish netters and the walleye fishery has boomed since then on the south side of the lake.
Big story for Minnesota, no doubt. Also a big headache for many as they work on a solution.
More news
• A female cougar collared in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 2007 was killed in a legal hunt southeast of Great Falls, Mont., in January 2013. That's 500 miles apart "as the crow flies."
• Clay Peterson, Jeffers, hunting out of his Action Track chair spotted a cougar last fall within 50 yards of his hunting spot near Dutch Charley Creek.
• It cost the state of Washington $77,000 to take out the so-called Wedge Pack after they had killed 16 calves on one ranch alone. Helicopters were needed.
• Remington has sold five million of the legendary and extremely accurate Model 700 rifle. Combine those owners with all the owners of Winchester Model 70's and Ruger Model 77's and you have quite a "standing army" in the USA. No wonder Japan once said they would never invade our mainland. "There would be someone with a rifle behind every tree."

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