For all the fans of Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota or just fans of keeping a fishery going please read the following. We were sent this letter from the Minnesota Muskie Pike Alliance.
We have a situation that calls for input from the muskie community at large. Please read the following message, send your input to the DNR at the listed contacts, and pass this message on to other muskie anglers so that we can have maximum impact. As always, be respectful and let them know we just want fishing to be the best it can be in Minnesota.
It’s no secret that Mille Lacs lake was, at one time, one of the best muskie fisheries that has ever existed. It’s also pretty universally known that it has gone pretty far down hill. Yes, there are some truly giant muskies in Mille Lacs… there’s no doubt in my mind that the MN state record is swimming there right now. But the total number of fish is very low. It went from the lake that probably had the highest muskie angling pressure in the state, to a lake that most muskie anglers don’t fish anymore, except maybe at the absolute peak times under the best conditions. And most go there knowing it’s going to be pretty tough. Without a doubt, it has one of the lowest population densities of any managed muskie lake in the state. It also has, by far, one of the lowest stocking rates.
There’s a lot of complexity involved in muskie population dynamics. There’s quite a bit of research showing that once a muskie population is established, higher stocking rates don’t always result in higher densities. It’s also a fact that most stocked muskie lakes see a population peak as the initial stocked fish fill their available ecological niche, followed by a steep decline when those fish reach maximum age and die off. After that, most lakes find a middle ground and the population tends to level off without any need to change the stocking program.
The number of big fish that Mille Lacs held at its peak was probably never sustainable, and it is unlikely to ever reach that high peak again. But it has fallen far below that “middle ground” the lake is certainly capable of sustaining.
When the population was at its peak, the DNR found evidence of noteworthy natural reproduction. The decision was made to significantly reduce stocking levels and see if the lake could sustain itself.
Unfortunately, when that initial mass of early stocked fish dropped from the population, the natural reproduction proved insufficient to carry the load, resulting in the very low population density we have today.
Several of our largest lakes have gone through similar struggles, but none to the extent of Mille Lacs.
About the same time that the muskie population began to bottom out we started to hear about all the problems with the Mille Lacs walleye population. What followed was several years of turmoil regarding walleye management. It went from a fisheries management challenge to a political battlefield. Nobody really had all the answers, but everyone was sure someone else was to blame and we’ve had more than our fair share of turmoil regarding muskie management throughout Minnesota as well.
Through it all, as Co-Chairs of the MN Muskie and Pike Alliance, John Underhill and myself have maintained the position that the time would come when the DNR would need to increase the stocking levels on Mille Lacs to return it to the fishery that it should be, but that we were willing to be patient and wait for the right time. Nothing good would come from “poking the hornets’ nest” by attempting to increase muskie stocking while so much attention, and angst, was directed towards the walleye situation.
We have made sure to explain that position to the DNR on numerous occasions over recent years.
So, what has changed?
Well, the DNR has written a new lake management plan for Mille Lacs. It details a lot of specific goals and directives for managing the other popular species in the lake, but the only thing it does for muskies is state that there won’t be any changes made because muskie anglers are “satisfied with the status quo”. (see page 12)
Obviously, they haven’t been listening.
When, and by how much, muskie stocking should be increased on Mille Lacs is certainly something that needs to be addressed thoughtfully.
But formulating the management plan based on the idea that anglers are satisfied with the status quo is ludicrous.
So, it’s time to make our voices heard.
They are taking public input on this plan, now through April 2.
Here is a link that will take you the webpage with all the info. It has the plan document, has a link for people to attend an online public input meeting, and has a survey for anglers to fill out regarding their opinion of the plan.