Ban on night fishing on Mille Lacs ends July 21
The ban on night fishing on Mille Lacs Lake will end at 10 p.m. July 21, the Minnesota DNR announced Monday.
The DNR's announcement came less than an hour after three District 10 lawmakers issued a news release calling for an end to the ban.
Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, who had asked the DNR not to implement the ban in April, said the ban had been unduly detrimental to Mille Lacs Lake area resorts and related businesses. The restrictions against night launches and the publicity about severe limitations on fishing had "put a chill on businesses" in the area, Radinovich said.
Recently, Radinovich said he learned the restrictions went so far as to prohibit fishing equipment in a boat at night. He said he hopes the lifting of the ban allows Mille Lacs Lake area businesses to salvage a portion of the summer.
The other two legislators who had called for an end to the night fishing ban Monday were Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, and Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter.
"It doesn't make sense to keep that ban on," Ruud said in a phone interview on Monday. "Here we are sitting here in the middle of July. The bite has really been light."
Because of Mille Lacs Lake's proximity to the Twin Cities, she said, many anglers traditionally have driven up after work to fish at night.
"That's a big part of that resource," she said.
The night ban had been set to continue until Dec. 1 and was put in place to prevent any further decline in the lake's walleye population. The DNR has set a walleye allocation of 42,900 pounds, but as of mid-July, only 10,000 pounds of walleye had been caught, despite already being through two of the busiest fishing months of the year — May and June.
Radinovich said he appreciated what the DNR's position was but felt that the ban could be lifted at this point.
"I deeply appreciate the DNR's efforts during this difficult situation, but based on the limits they have set and how little has been caught so far, I believe we can safely lift the night ban," Radinovich said in a statement. "Lifting the night ban will help our local hotels, restaurants, and sporting goods stores that rely on fishing and tourism, and night fishing in particular."
"We're pleased we can open the lake to night fishing," said Brad Parsons, central region fisheries manager for the DNR in that agency's statement. "Evening and night launches can resume operation, and boats can travel and fish at night. In addition to walleye, anglers can again seek muskellunge and bow fish during prime nighttime hours."
In past years, the Mille Lacs Lake night closure, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., began the Monday after the May opener and continued through mid-June. This year's regulations extended the closure to Dec. 1 to help ensure state-licensed anglers did not catch more walleye than the lake's safe harvest limit allowed. If that limit was reached, anglers would have had to release all walleye instead of being allowed to keep two. The possession limit is two fish 18- to 20-inches. One fish may be longer than 28 inches.
"So far, anglers have caught about 10,000 pounds of walleye," Parsons said. "That number will increase once night fishing resumes, but catch rates have been low enough to alleviate concerns that anglers will catch more than the 42,900 pounds of walleye the harvest limit allows."
Anglers have caught fewer walleye because walleye are feeding on an abundance of perch in Mille Lacs this year and reduced fishing pressure, DNR officials said. Cool temperatures and rain have kept the water temperatures down, which lowers mortality of released fish. Fish are more likely to die after being released in warmer water even if properly handled.
"The DNR is not removing the night closure because Mille Lacs Lake has recovered," said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries section chief. "More young walleye still need to survive their first year and keep growing from year to year into larger walleye. Conditions this year combined for a slow bite, allowing DNR to re-open an activity that helps the Mille Lacs area economy and is a tradition among many fishing families."
"While we may not agree on everything, we're working together and fighting for our local businesses," said Ruud. "It's clear that the night ban is no longer necessary and we should end it to help our economy."
Ward said a possible lifting of the night fishing ban has been in the discussion phase for some time. He said the lifting of the ban is a decision based on good scientific data and research.
"I agree with Rep. Radinovich: it's time to end the night ban," Ward said in the statement. "This ban has caused a lot of anxiety for our local businesses and we should end it as soon as possible to lessen the negative impact on our economy."
For more information the DNR suggested people visit the Mille Lacs Lake Web page at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake. People interested in receiving email updates about Mille Lacs Lake may subscribe to the Hooked On Mille Lacs Update list at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslakenews.