What’s best for Lake Mille Lacs?

The Department of Natural Resources says it may have to close walleye fishing on Mille Lacs next week. Conrad Wilson | MPR News 2013

No sooner at the Department of Natural Resources announced its new regulations for the state’s premier lake than politicians were talking about undoing them.

The DNR announced this week that only artificial bait can be used on the lake and all walleyes have to be released, sending shock waves through the resort community which has endured some tough times recently, partly because when Minnesotans hear “fish” they think “walleye.”

Sen. Dave Brown, R-Becker, said the DNR is “doing everything they possibly can to destroy the economy” near Lake Mille Lacs so he’s pushing legislation to undo the regulations.

The declining health of walleye in Lake Mille Lacs is an environmental and economic “pay me now or pay me later” situation. The big picture isn’t really our strong suit anymore.

In its editorial today, the Star Tribune acknowledges the short-term pain of the DNR’s decision, but also notes that Gov. Dayton asked the Legislature for a special session to approve economic aid for the resorters last summer but legislative leaders said “no.”

To that end, Brown’s time would be better spent supporting the DNR’s bonding proposal for a $3.5 million fisheries management station on Mille Lacs that would help the agency meet stocking, research and outreach needs. The station also would stand as a symbol of Minnesota’s commitment to a bellwether lake that’s a major contributor to the state’s $2 billion fishing industry.

The Legislature should also take a fresh look at Gov. Mark Dayton’s welcome but short-lived 2015 proposal for property tax relief, zero-­interest loans and extra tourism promotion to help Mille Lacs-area businesses.

In the meantime, Minnesotans who care about walleyes and Mille Lacs can do their part by planning to visit the lake and its area businesses this spring, summer and fall. Walleye fishing is expected to be strong — even without live bait — and Mille Lacs remains a top spot for northern and bass fishing. With some luck — and continued effective management by the DNR — those walleye shore lunches will be back before too long.

Strib outdoors writer Dennis Anderson provides a fascinating factoid on fishing in his column today. It’s changing, he says. Young people might be less about the walleye and more about the bass. Lake Mille Lacs has bass.

Why an emphasis on bass in a walleye state?

Because fishing is constantly changing.

Put another way: Mille Lacs — long known for its walleyes — might someday be equally respected for its bass.

It shouldn’t go unnoticed that many of today’s young anglers prefer to cast crankbaits or spinnerbaits or plastic worms for bass, rather than jig for walleyes.

Nor should it be forgotten that, no matter an angler’s opinion on competitive bass tournaments, these contests in many places in this country attract throngs of young people to fishing who otherwise might not ever bait a hook.

He also said bass fishers, unlike their walleye counterparts, are less about what he called “the harvest mentality.”