Nowhere else in the state does the DNR keep track of post mortality walleyes (the fish that die after release). On all the other lakes a dead walleye is simply bird food. But on Mille Lacs, that fish counts towards the angler portion of the allocation for the year whether it actually existed or not. The post mortality pounds are the biggest reason the season has been shut down every year now since the first time in the history of Mille Lacs in August of 2015. And there is no solid proof the numbers are even remotely accurate.
The allocation is a finite number. Once it is supposedly reached, the lake is shut down. But here’s the kicker; the post mortality number is a calculated guess. An interpolation of the number of walleyes the DNR thinks that anglers have caught and released according to the creel data taken at the accesses. It is then put into a formula that determines how many fish they think died after anglers released them.
This is a number that has nothing to do with how many real dead walleyes are or are not actually floating on the surface and washing up on shore. This is strictly computer data – not fact based or real world. And as a matter of fact, in all the years I’ve been out there on the lake, I cannot say that I’ve seen a correlation between the two.
And the idea that some dead fish sink in the summer has never made sense to me. Cold water? Sure, but it’s the warm water temperature in the summer that builds up the gases inside the fish, and that causes them to ultimately float in the end.
I watched the study they did to determine the post mortality formula quite a few years ago. I didn’t know what was happening at first until I saw a boat with the Minnesota sticker on it denoting that it was the DNR.
As I fished in closer, I saw the whole process. An angler would catch a fish and then signal the DNR. Then they would wait with the fish until the DNR came over and then transferred the fish to their boat where the DNR would measure it and do whatever else they were going to do to the fish before they then transported the fish again and then placed it in the holding pen.
Now that process is way more involved than your average angler catching and releasing a fish.
The time out of the water alone cannot even be compared, much less all the extra handling. And I believe they leave the walleyes in the pen for five days to see how many survive the experience. Once in the pen, those fish cannot feed effectively, and even if they could, there have been studies that show fish will not feed for an extended period of time due to the stress of being in captivity.
This is not apples to apples. There is very little to compare, other than the angler catching the fish and then “releasing” it to the DNR. It only makes sense that the mortality of these studied fish would be considerably higher than a normally handled and released fish. Yet this is the standard anglers are being held to. These are the pounds that have shut down the walleye fishing for seven years in a row now – including the last two weeks.
The co-management has been in effect since 1999, so what has suddenly changed over the last seven years, other than all the reasons why the DNR thinks the walleye population has been supposedly struggling? It is very apparent that it isn’t – just look at the accesses earlier this year. Anglers were parking out on the road because all the spots were filled. Anglers would not be coming here if there was something wrong with the lake.
At the end of the day, I think it is fair to say that the DNR fisheries around Mille Lacs are political pawns. But why? What is the end game? If the master plan is to try to discourage people from coming to Mille Lacs, I think they have failed on an epic level. It will be interesting to see what they come up with next.
Erik Jacobson is a Messenger staff writer.