Reinventing Mille Lacs

It seemed akin to a state of emergency, what with the governor on hand, sharing words of encouragement for those most impacted.

And that’s the feel on Lake Mille Lacs post-walleyes – the season was shut down last week and will remain closed until December in an attempt to help walleye fishing finally rebound at the once-great walleye fishery.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, as promised, was on the lake late last week, fishing and promoting it as a bass-fishing destination. And it has fast become that – it’s been listed as one of the top 10 bass-fishing lakes in the country.

And it’s a great multi-species lake, too, and a renowned big game-fish lake, even minus the state fish. Nice pike abound, and it’s regarded as one of the best trophy muskie fisheries in the state – it’s thought by hard-core muskie-fishing types that the state record is lurking somewhere in Mille Lacs.

The hope, both with Dayton’s fishing outing and the Minnesota DNR‘s recent push for bass fishing at Mille Lacs, is that all of this can help offset what will be lost without the state fish. Resorts will be hurting, along with tourism as a whole in the area without walleyes in the mix.

Bass fishing is big – has been for years – and it continues to grow in popularity with its model catch-and-release mentality. But even so, trying to sell what for a long time was regarded as one of the best walleye-fishing destinations anywhere as, now, a bass fishery won’t be easy. In a report on Dayton’s Mille Lacs outing, one resort owner said he had seen some cancellations, but said others had called to book trips, which is good news. But it’s hard to believe that those numbers will offset the numbers lost with the closing of the open-water walleye season.

That’s something, and the DNR recently made adjustments to the previous bass regs on the lake in hopes of attracting national bass-fishing tournaments to Mille Lacs.

But, again, is there any replacing walleyes at the lake? Yes, walleye fishing will be back in the winter. But after a four-month closure and years and years of struggles with the species, when will walleye fishing at Mille Lacs truly be back?

My guess is never – at least not close to what it was even a decade ago, about the time walleye fishing started its downward spiral at Mille Lacs.

As it tries to reinvent itself, maybe Mille Lacs still can draw walleye anglers to a lake sans walleyes: Also in a report out of Dayton’s fishing outing, that resort owner said that customers at the resort who catch and release a smallmouth bass will be given a frozen walleye to take home.

These days, for walleye lovers at Mille Lacs, that’s about as good as it gets.

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