Smallmouth bass are being thrown under the fisheries-management bus at Minnesota’s Lake Mille Lacs. Ostensibly, the move is to help rebuild the walleye fishery, but the regulation change has many anglers shaking their heads in disbelief and organizing to oppose the move via a petition drive.
In 2012, anglers were allowed to keep only one smallmouth bass of at least 21 inches. This year, the limit is 6, with one of more than 20 inches, while the rest must be less than 17.
Conversely, last year anglers could keep up to four walleye shorter than 17 inches, with one longer than 28 inches allowed. Now, they can keep only two between 18 and 20 inches or one in the slot and one longer than 28 inches.
“The smallmouth bass and northern pike regulations are designed to protect smaller walleye until we have better information on what these predator species are eating,” said Dirk Peterson, fisheries chief for the Department of Natural Resources.
“We’ll be starting a predator diet study this spring. Meanwhile, the regulations will allow anglers some additional non-walleye harvest opportunities while also retaining solid numbers of trophy-sized fish.”
But critics counter that increased harvest will damage the world-class smallmouth fishery.
Some also point out that the state isn’t addressing the real problem, netting of walleye by Native Americans.
“Meanwhile, the eight bands of Chippewa who net Mille Lacs during the spring spawn have given no indication they will change the mesh size of their nets, which tend to target walleyes 18 inches and smaller, the same fish sport anglers are trying to protect,” said Dennis Anderson in the Star Tribune newspaper.
And at the Outdoor Hub, angler Rodney Peterson added, “The walleye decline started when the bands started to net spawning fish.
“I remember catching a 6-fish limit in a couple hours as a young adult in the late ‘80s. Last year, we had trouble catching a single fish in the slot. The problem should be obvious, even for the incredibly myopic DNR and tribal fisheries.
“Stop netting the fish during the spawn. It would be the same as a farmer butchering his cows before they have their calves and wondering why his herd was dwindling. Seriously, is it that difficult to figure out? Short-sighted greed is running the fishery, not conservation.”