May 23, 2018) Isle, Minn. — The Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance has been meeting with the Minnesota DNR since 2016 to encourage sound scientific management decisions regarding what is now considered the #1 bass fishing lake in the nation—Mille Lacs of central Minnesota. Since that time, MLSA members were instrumental in collecting 97% of the diary data used in a recently released report from the DNR.
Highlights from the MN-DNR report include an estimated population of smallmouth bass 12” or longer is 67,000. This number is less than what the DNR’s previous guesstimates of the smallmouth population* and the information used to make 2018 regulations decisions now already in place. Additional conclusions can be gleaned from the data gathered, and the MLSA encourages patience on the part of anglers and lake stakeholders as they take a deeper dive into the data. The MLSA will be included in the evaluation process and will, hopefully, have input regarding regulation changes for 2019 and beyond.
A quote from the MN-DNR press release sent out on April 19, 2018 included:
“Though anglers have been allowed to keep more bass since 2013, creel surveys indicate that interest in keeping bass is low. The average number of bass kept each year is about 2,800. In recent years, anglers have caught and released more than 125,000 bass. ‘Based on the estimated number of smallmouth bass in the lake and the number that anglers catch each year, it’s clear that these fish are being caught more than once,’ said Tom Heinrich, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Garrison. ‘The anglers who are releasing those bass are helping maintain the lake’s incredible bass fishery.’”
“Using the DNR’s own numbers every smallmouth is being caught, on average, two times,” said George Liddle, MLSA vice president and Mille Lacs area homeowner and fishing/boating industry executive. “Those numbers say a lot. We’re at a tipping point here and if people decided to keep these fish they could do significant damage very quickly.” Many local bass anglers would like to see the regulation back to what it was from 2000 to 2012 which was simply one fish 21” and over in the summer months only—keeping the spring and fall fishing to catch and release only. “That regulation was the main reason we saw the lake grow into the #1 lake in the nation,” Liddle continued. “I hope we’ll see that regulation back someday soon.” The MLSA advertises a Free the Fighter campaign to encourage voluntary catch and release.
The MLSA would like to thank the MN-DNR for allowing the MLSA to sit at the table and partner in the information gathering and subsequent review of data. It remains the founding mission of the 501c3 non-profit organization “to preserve and protect the world-class trophy smallmouth fishery,” now recognized as the best bass fishing lake in America, for generations to come.
“At the end of the day we’re looking at a fishery that should be one of the finest multi-species fisheries in the country,” said Scott Bonnema, president/owner of Classic Bass and tournament angler. He likened Mille Lacs to Green Bay, Erie or Lake St. Clair. “There’s no reason bass, muskie and walleye can’t excel together when managed properly. I’m all for monitoring and managing regulations that are based on science. Mille Lacs can be a healthy multi-species lake.” A robust lake contributes to a healthy local economy, and that’s good for property owners, as well as resort owners and all area businesses.