(March 20, 2019) Isle, Minn. — “Get used to disappointment,” is a well-known movie quote from the middle of a sword fight in the iconic production Princess Bride. Perhaps it is also the Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance’s most-heard comment as the Minnesota DNR releases the new year’s fishing regulations concerning smallmouth bass on the #1 bass fishery in the country.
The news only reinforces the platform of the organization: to preserve and protect the world- class trophy smallmouth bass fishery. Issues include:
The three fish limit remains the same, however, the MLSA advocated hard for a two-fish limit and a protected slot of 15-inches to 21-inches (not 17-inch to 21-inches as announced) and didn’t get it. “We need to keep advocating for this change because Mille Lacs is a trophy lake for smallmouth,” Jason Schade said. Schade is the president of the MLSA. “It takes a long time for these fish to grow and if the harvest continues to include 15-inch to 17-inch class fish the trophy population of the lake will be on the decline.”
Population estimates of the fishery prior to an extensive study were 120,000 to 140,000 smallmouth bass. The revised estimate with new data during 2018 indicates a population of 67,000 (over 12-inches). This means 44% to 52% LESS smallmouth bass than previously estimated by the DNR. Could this be from aggressive harvests allowed the last few years? Wouldn’t such data warrant a possession reduction in 2019? “Anglers traveling to fish Mille Lacs for smallmouth bass have become an intricate part of our business,” Justin Baldwin said. Baldwin is the owner of Hunters Point Resort on Mille Lacs. “The degree of success of our business in the future will follow the success of smallmouth bass fishing, so much so that protecting our future business means protecting the smallmouth ”
Another finding in the new data shows it takes a full two years for a 15-inch smallmouth bass to reach 17-inches on this fishery. The MLSA believes the 15-inch fish are the backbone of the quality of this fishery and it is essential they are protected, too. “We need to continue to work for changes that considers the findings from this scientific data,” said Jim DaRosa, past president and current board member of
Don’t even get these bass anglers started by bringing up the walleye regulations. “It is obvious the DNR is using the harvest of smallmouth bass to appease the walleye anglers,” said Jason Holmer, MLSA board “We never liked that, but when the population estimates were up it was one thing. The overall population of smallmouth bass on Mille Lacs is down substantially and we have to be focused on that as well.”
The MLSA’s members cooperated fully with the DNR during the 2017 and 2018 seasons to gather much-needed information for scientific decision-making. MLSA members worry their extra effort meant nothing for the end-result.
However, one bit of good news is the closed season in May (11th through the 25th) and catch-and-release only in the fall (as is the case throughout the state of Minnesota). “Fall is a very vulnerable time for the smallmouth bass,” Holmer continued. “They allowed [it] in some previous years, and quite frankly, it could be argued those past decisions to have a fall harvest indicates flat-out negligence.”
The MLSA formed in the fall of 2014 with the express purpose to preserve and protect the trophy smallmouth fishery on Mille Lacs. “We’re doing our job, but there is much more for us to do,” Schade said. “In some ways our pleas fall on deaf ears and it has become urgent we protect this 15-inch to 17-inch class.” The organization plans to continue to work collaboratively to discover scientific data for decision-making and hold the MN-DNR accountable. They have a fiduciary responsibility to the stakeholders and all Minnesotans. “If we see this fishery decline in a year or two there will be people who have to answer to it,” Holmer said. A new Governor for Minnesota and a new Commissioner of the MN-DNR may mean fresh eyes and ears for the MLSA members’ concerns. The economic benefits for a strong fishery are best for the area in the long run. “A strong fishery contributes greatly to tourism and our resorts have discovered bass anglers are coming from many states to fish here,” DaRosa continued.
For 2019 the MLSA will continue to encourage voluntary catch and release with their Free the Fighter campaign. Utilizing billboards, radio advertising, newspaper ads and social media messages, bass anglers will hear and see the reminder to Free the Fighter. “It’s working,” Schade said. “The majority of bass anglers practice catch and release. That’s encouraging to keep our message going. We need our members to join, renew and donate to keep that up.”