Most-read news stories of the year from the pages of the Mille Lacs Messenger

Compiled by Peggy Bakken

While the New Year is underway, we’re taking the opportunity to look back one more time on the biggest local news stories of 2021.

Using the metrics from the Messenger’s website, we’ve track the page views and compiled the headlines and summaries from the most read stories.

And it seems appropriate that the most read article was a fish tale – only not about the one that got away but the one that set the state record for biggest muskie.

Top story of 2021

The top story of 2021 was also a recent one. “State record muskie caught on Mille Lacs.”

Top article and top outdoors article

Nolan Sprengeler of Plymouth set out on one last trip to Mille Lacs Monday, Nov. 22, in his words, “To chase the queen.” He teamed up with friends, Kevin Kray and Zack Skoglund, and caught an incredible muskie that measured 57 3/4 inches long with a massive 29-inch girth.  

After the article about the biggest fish, several other outdoors articles came to the top of the list: 

“Minnesota Fishing opener is May 15 this year” April 2021

“Fishing seasons open for walleye, bass, trout in lakes, and northern pike on Saturday, May 15, with this year’s date taking the prize for the latest possible opener under Minnesota statute.”

“We know there is some confusion about this year’s opener date,” said Jon Hansen, fisheries program consultant for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“Minnesota statute sets the fishing opener as the Saturday two weeks prior to the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. This year, with Memorial Day the latest it can be, on May 31, that puts the fishing opener on Saturday, May 15.”

Other top outdoors headlines:

“Early and late season walleye harvest to be allowed on Mille Lacs in 2021

“June heat and drought: impacts at Mille Lacs?”

“April 7 official ice out for Mille Lacs 2021”

“Local reaction to the new walleye fishing regulations on Mille Lacs”

“Fish scraps make fertilizer”

“How’s the water? Mille Lacs lake levels”

“Hank Williams Jr. flies in to fish the Big Pond”

Tragedy and crime

Several news articles about local tragedies and crime also were top-read stories for 2021. 

The top article was “Two pronounced dead after medical event in Isle”

“Two individuals are dead after emergency personnel responded to a medical event last evening on Wednesday, Jan. 6.

“Mille Lacs County Sheriff Don Lorge stated that an ambulance, Mille Lacs County deputies and the Isle Fire Department were dispatched to the 3200 block of Vista Road in Eastside Township, Isle, at approximately 10:39 p.m., regarding a patient that was unresponsive with a possible heart attack.

“According to a press release from the Mille Lacs Sheriff’s Office, once on scene, deputies and EMS personnel began to administer life saving measures to an unresponsive adult male. The adult male was pronounced deceased at the scene and has been identified as Warren Robert Otis, age 59, of Isle, Minn.

“One of the paramedics on scene assisting with this medical call, identified as Toby Lee Rowan, age 47, of Fifty Lakes, Minn., began to feel weak and dizzy. Paramedic Rowan collapsed while on the scene and became unresponsive and the deputies, firefighters and other EMS personnel attempted life saving measures on Paramedic Rowan. He was transported to Mille Lacs Health System Emergency Room in Onamia where he was later pronounced deceased.

“Paramedic Rowan worked for Cuyuna Regional Medical Center Ambulance as well as Mille Lacs Health System EMS and was on duty for Mille Lacs Health System at the time of this incident.” 

The other headlines in the category were:

“Drowning in Mille Lacs”

“Woman killed at gas station in Onamia”

“Woman charged with assaulting child under four years old; man charged with neglect, child endangerment”

“Isle teen killed in car crash”

“Three charged in fatal hit and run”

News events

“Reservation boundary signs go up” was the top-read general news article. January 2021 

“Before the courts have had a chance to rule on the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Reservation boundary issue currently in litigation, and what many in the area would consider a brazen move and others would consider long overdue, the State of Minnesota on behalf of the Mille Lacs Band, erected signs on Jan. 7 marking what they believe are the Reservation boundaries.

As of press time, additional signs were going up in other locations along state highways within the original 61,000 acres of the 1855 Treaty Reservation.

In February of last year, Gov. Tim Walz reversed the official, long-held opinion of the State of Minnesota on the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Reservation boundaries to include the original 61,000 acres surrounding the lower half of Mille Lacs Lake.

This opinion is a reversal of previous Attorney Generals Lori Swanson and Mike Hatch and all the past governors of Minnesota.

Mille Lacs County holds the opinion that Article 1 of the 1864 Treaty ceded the 1855 Reservation to the United States.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe on their Facebook page issued the following statement on Jan. 8:

“Yesterday, the Minnesota Department of Transportation began placing signs on the borders of our Reservation. The signs read: Misi-zaaga’iganiing/Mille Lacs Reservation/Established in 1855 Treaty.

“These signs will not affect our pending lawsuit but are an important reminder of the establishment of our Reservation. Our ancestors withstood a decades-long campaign by powerful timber companies, non-Indian settlers, and federal, state and county officials to force them from the Reservation, which included acts of violence and the burning of the Band’s homes and villages. They remained here against all odds.

“Given our history, and the modern-day efforts of Mille Lacs County to erase all memory of our Reservation, we greatly appreciate the State’s public recognition of its establishment in 1855.”

MnDOT Office of Communications and Public Engagement Director Jake Loesch gave the following statement in response of the boundary sign placement:

“The Attorney General has clarified the State of Minnesota’s position on the reservation boundary for the Mille Lacs Band. MnDOT will continue to use this boundary, which is also consistent with the position of the federal government.”


Most-read opinion piece:

‘No walleye for you’ 

by Steve Johnson


Opinion pieces scored high among readers. The most read was: 

“No walleye for you” – column by Steve Johnson – July 2021

“The 2021 fishing season is well underway and once again; we are under very strict regulations on the harvest of walleyes from Mille Lacs Lake.


The answer is simple; the agreed upon quota is too low in my opinion.

“We entered into this regulation season with a combined total quota of 150,000 pounds for the non-natives and the tribes. If it seems familiar, it is because we had the same quota last year. We have a fishery that is possibly in too good of shape. There are approximately 700,000 to one million plus walleyes that weigh upwards of two million pounds swimming in the lake. The lakes walleye population is not in any type of crisis situation, yet we are handed a poorly negotiated low quota that once again takes the opportunity of fishing away from all of us.”

 Other top-read opinions included: 

“New Age Globalization And The Coming New World Order” June 2021

Brainiac: IQ or EQ?

Rob Passons - The dark side of Leave it to Beaver

“Tips for golf ball hunting”

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