By The Northland Outdoors Network
The transition has seemingly been in the works for several years: Premier walleye-fishing destination to bass-tournament-worthy fishery.
Events of this week have gone a long way toward that end.
At 10 p.m. Monday, walleye fishing on Mille Lacs Lake closed and won’t reopen until Nov. 30 as walleye fishing looks to finally rebound on the lake about two hours north of the Twin Cities.
On Tuesday, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced a change in fishing regulations for Mille Lacs that it says will help attract more national bass tournaments to the area. And on Friday, the DNR announced an adjustment to that rule change.
As has been the case across the country, bass numbers have been on the upswing in Mille Lacs in recent years. Along those lines, for the 2014 Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener in the Brainerd lakes area, the DNR decided to include bass in the opener mix – for Mille Lacs only – several weeks before the usual bass opener, likely in an effort to help offset what even then was expected to be a poor walleye showing at the lake.
Also in recent years, well-known walleye anglers such as Gary Roach – “Mr. Walleye” – have instead targeted bass on the burgeoning bass fishery, ranked as the 10th-best bass lake in the nation by Bassmaster Magazine. It’s regarded primarily as a world-class smallmouth lake, but also offers strong largemouth numbers.
According to the DNR, national bass tournaments could draw thousands of anglers to the region, benefiting area resorts and businesses that have been impacted by the walleye-fishing closure. The rule change announced by DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr Tuesday will allow anglers to sort bass that are shorter than 18 inches, and keep the largest fish – a rule change that is essential in securing national bass tournaments, the DNR said. And on Friday, the DNR said it now will allow anglers competing in catch-and-release bass tournaments on Mille Lacs to possess and sort their catches, regardless of size. Outside of catch-and-release tournament competition, bass anglers on Mille Lacs still will be allowed to possess just one bass over 18 inches.
“We are continuing to respond to the economic needs of the Mille Lacs Lake area, and we have heard from tournament anglers that sorting larger fish would do even more to help attract large tournaments,” Landwehr said. “Attracting several big-name catch-and-release bass tournaments to Mille Lacs will provide a lasting boost to the local economy.”
A difference of only a few ounces often determines the winner of a bass tournament. Having the ability to cull allows tournament anglers to keep the biggest fish that weigh the most. The tournament rule change is not expected to harm Mille Lacs bass populations or large fish because the fish caught and sorted in the tournaments are released into the lake once they are weighed. The new rule only would apply to a limited number of tournaments.
“The new rule will allow catch-and-release tournaments to cull smallmouth bass regardless of size up to the statewide limit of six,” Landwehr said. “We are not talking about all bass tournaments – the exemption in this rule is aimed at national- and state-caliber bass tournaments, which we are hoping would consider planning events on Mille Lacs Lake.”
Anglers on other lakes in Minnesota already can sort bass that they catch. Anglers not participating in tournaments will be allowed to keep only one bass 18 inches or longer. The new rule would not allow anglers to replace a bass 18 inches or longer even if a larger fish is caught later during that same trip. In addition, anglers would not be allowed to cull bass once they have caught their limit of six. The no-cull rule will remain in effect for all other fish species at Mille Lacs.
The new rule is expected to go into effect later this month.
“Fishing is a major draw for out-of-state visitors, generating $2.8 billion in retail sales and 43,000 Minnesota jobs,” said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism. “Eliminating one of the hurdles to attracting more national bass fishing tournaments gives the Mille Lacs area another tool to draw national attention and help improve its economy.”