Walleye limit woes bring tough times along Lake Mille Lacs

It’s a rough year to be a business owner depending on tourists around Lake Mille Lacs.

The Department of Natural Resources cut the walleye quota this year. Sport anglers were allowed 178,750 pounds while Ojibwe bands with treaty rights will get 72,250 pounds.

Concerned about increased walleye mortality rates at Mille Lacs and a drop in mature male walleye numbers, the DNR imposed a two-walleye limit with restrictions. You can keep a caught walleye only if it’s between 18 and 20 inches or longer than 28 inches. (Last year, you could keep up to four walleye shorter than 17 inches, with one trophy fish allowed.)

The result? Economic disaster, according to some resort owners along the lake.

“The 2-inch walleye slot (18 to 20 inches) and the 2-fish bag limit are completely separate issues,” Bill Lundeen of Lundeen’s Tackle Castle in Onamia tells the Mille Lacs Messenger. “The DNR has crashed the market with this 2 and 2 deal.”

“It’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room. The experiment has gone bad on them (the DNR) and I guarantee we haven’t seen the bottom of this,” he told the Messenger.

But it’s not just the regulations. The ice didn’t leave Mille Lacs until May. The price of gasoline pushed $4 earlier in the summer, and there just aren’t as many fish in the lake as there use to be.

“I don’t know what the future is for Mille Lacs, I really don’t,” Greg Thomas of Gregory’s Resort tells WCCO. He’s been in business for 23 years but says this year he’s lost $60,000 in business. “We’re down about 100 percent during the week and 70 percent on weekends. You go out there and catch fish but we can’t keep any. The slot has just killed us this year.”

Mille Lacs’ woes might mean extra cash for resort owners elsewhere, however. One Mille Lacs bait shop owner says anglers are heading to Leech Lake or Red Lake instead.