|"The Bait Shop"|
...(7-30) A lot is happening and so far nothing has changed. Since last week's Weekend Outlook Governor Dayton has taken notice (and seemingly "interest") of the crisis surrounding Mille Lacs. The short version is that several representatives from the Mille Lacs fishing and business community along with a few State and local leaders met with the governor Wednesday in Saint Paul. He has committed to coming to the area Friday, July 31st to get a firsthand look at the reach and magnitude of this mess. A public meeting is scheduled from 11:45 until 1 at the Isle High School auditorium. ALL ARE WELCOME. Folks, this is where you'll see the process at work. This is for you - for us - for anglers, property owners, business owners, whiners, doubters, arm-chair biologists... EVERYONE! Don't wait for your neighbor to tell you what was said/what was covered/what's going to happen next - see it and hear it for yourself. The next set of data gathered from Aitkin Fisheries should have been competed 7-29-15 (yesterday). I expect they are under a certain amount of pressure to discern that data and will be able to report on their findings at this same meeting. This last set of data is expected to determine whether Mille Lacs will have to close to walleye fishing after this weekend.
Since the walleye season is still open, let's go through the motions here - the bite remains stronger than usual for the end of July. A large number of 9-13 inch hungry walleye continue to entertain Mille Lacs anglers, with a few bigger ones and even a few slot fish. Leeches on a live bait rig or under a slip bobbers are the top approach. Crawlers on a spinner work too. We don't see as many folks as usual trolling leadcore right now, due to the smaller average size of the walleye... sometimes it's hard to tell if you have a fish on or not! Nearly all the bite is on the mud flats. No one flat stands out from the others this week. Smallmouth and northern action is decent, but down somewhat from a month ago.
... (7-23) By now I'm sure you all have heard about the newest drama on Mille Lacs. I received a call from the DNR on Monday morning bracing me for the afternoon's media release that would state that Mille Lacs was nearly certain to be shut down to walleye fishing in a matter of days. Mille Lacs anglers have nearly reached the quota of 28,600 pounds of walleye. As of July 21st, the harvest is 10,862 lb and hooking mortality is 14,915 lb. for a combined total of 25,777 pounds - about 3,000 from the "harvest" cap. The total releases are 163,599 walleye and 190,244 lb. We are told that from July 1st through July 15th, anglers have harvested about the same number of walleye as they did from December 1st through June 30th. That's quite a haul... 2 weeks is the same as 7 months?!
Now what? The next census comes at the end of July. At that time the DNR will determine if Mille Lacs will remain open or closed for walleye through the "end" (November 30th, 2015). We are told that this is the law. Totally unprecedented. We've been encouraged to pursue other species - northern pike and smallmouth bass, which are both described as being at or near an "all time high" population. Catchable? Yes. Edible? Yes. Substitute for walleye? I think we all know the answer to that. I'll continue to report on the status of this mess as it unfolds. For now, we have a few more days to chase walleye on Mille Lacs. The projected WALLEYE closure would begin no sooner than August 3rd.
The walleye bite has still been good - mostly smaller fish. The mud flats are producing most of the fish, although most any deep water structure holds a certain population of these little guys. Leeches on a live bait rig or under a slip bobber are great - crawlers on a spinner and/or deep water crankbaits work well too. gold, orange and pink are the top colors. The smallmouth bite has moved a little deeper - 10-18 feet is your prime target zone now. Northern action has slowed somewhat from where it was earlier in the month, although some good numbers of fish are still coming out. Isle bay and Wigwam are both worth a look.
Each year (usually in mid-July) leeches get tough to come by. This year is no exception. Does this mean that there are none? Not at all - however the size and quantity will suffer as we get further into summer. We still have a modest supply of bigger leeches that we sell by the dozen, and some smaller stuff that we can sell by the dozen or the 1/2 pound. Several years ago, I wrote an article about the lifecycle of a leech and why they get hard to come by as the summer goes on. You can find that article HERE if you would like to brush up on your "leechology".
The "night ban" is now in effect.
The "trailer sticker" that we were all supposed to have this spring has been put "on hold".
If you didn't read this last fall, it deserves your attention this week. Here a link to the DNR'S Hooked on Mille Lacs fall newsletter. You can check out some of the results of the 2014 fall netting survey. Of particular interest is the summary on page 4: "There is nothing in this data that suggests tribal fishing is affecting reproduction". If you're left with a shred of doubt after this compelling analysis, PLEASE contact the Aitkin Fisheries Office of the Minnesota DNR.