The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources closed walleye fishing on Mille Lacs Lake until the end of November, saying this year’s harvest has exceeded the state’s allotment for the year by more than 2,000 pounds.
Walleye fishing on the lake closed at 10 p. m. on Aug. 3. The state agency said species that include smallmouth bass, northern pike, and muskellunge were still abundant and that fishing for those species will remain open. Regulations for bass and northern pike will be loosened, allowing anglers to keep more of what they catch.
Business owners and residents protested the closing, saying the state had mismanaged the lake’s walleye population for years. On a recent morning, fishing boats were idle, no one was buying bait and the restaurant at the Twin Pines resort was nearly empty.
“It’s a sad deal,” Bill Lundeen, an owner of a bait shop near the lake, told the New York Times. “I totally see businesses closing up because of this. We like to stay positive and today’s a hard day to do that.”
“The situation will not turn around for several years,” the state agency said in a statement that announced the early closing. “It will take time — as well as careful management, monitoring and analysis — for enough smaller walleyes to grow into the larger walleyes that anglers prefer to catch and that can contribute to future reproduction.”
The Times said walleye is the most treasured fish in the state and that the lake is perhaps the most famous place in the state to fish for it. Lundeen’s wife, Kathy, was not mollified by the state’s suggestion that anglers should come to the lake to fish for other species.
“Here’s what that would be like,” she told the Times. “You’ve got tickets to the Rolling Stones, OK? And just before the concert, Mick Jagger quits.”
The morning after walleye fishing was closed, there were cancellations at hotels. At the Blue Goose in Garrison, which hugs the lake, once-popular guided trips to fish for walleye — $35 for a four-hour trip, bait and tackle included — were called off.
“I had two gentlemen come in this morning, buy a couple of sweatshirts, and then say, ‘We’ll be back again when the fish are back,’ ” Denise Reid, a clerk at the Your Up North Trading Post, which sells gifts and souvenirs, told the Times.