River Currents

by Free Speech on June 24, 2009

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Lodi, Wisconsin
by Gary Engberg
©2009 Gary Engberg Outdoors

Mille Lacs Lake, the Jewel of Minnesota

This nice walleye is just an example of the plentiful fish in Mille Lacs.

This nice walleye is just an example of the plentiful fish in Mille Lacs.

Last week, I had the pleasure of being invited to a Media Event on the premier fishing lake in Minnesota, Mille Lacs Lake. The “Event” was sponsored by Waypoint Technologies (LakeMaster) which makes some of the best digital map cards or “chips” for today’s new electronics. LakeMaster still produces paper maps with some of the best detail and contours on today’s market.

Mille Lacs Lake for those who don’t know is the second largest lake in Minnesota after Lake of the Woods. It spans 132,000 surface acres or slightly more than 200 square miles. This would be equal to over 13 Lake Mendota’s in size. The lake is relatively shallow without a thermo cline, so fish can be scattered throughout the water column. Most of the main lake falls into the 20 to 35 foot range with the north half of the lake containing mud flats and the southern portion of Mille Lacs offering more gravel and rock bars. The deep water angling takes place on the southern deep gravel and rocks as well as the numerous mud flats in the northern part of the lake. There also is shoreline break fishing on varied bottom types all around the entire lake. The weed line average is at 9 to 10 feet.
Mille Lacs Lake is often called the “Walleye Capital” of the United States and after fishing it for over two decades I know this lake well and jumped at the opportunity to once again fish this lake. The annual harvest is usually between 250,000 and 400,000 walleyes plus a quota allowed to the Native Americans who can legally use gill nets. But, besides the walleyes there is very good fishing for northern pike, muskie, jumbo perch, smallmouth bass, crappies, and tullibee on open water and on ice.

Some of the reasons why there is such good fishing are the prime spawning grounds. Mille Lacs is one of the world’s most prolific “natural” walleye lakes with the ability to produce billions of walleye eggs and fry. There is no stocking on this walleye “factory” which depends totally on natural reproduction. Another reason for the overall health of the fishery is the abundant forage base.

Mille Lacs Lake also has a fish management plan implemented by the Minnesota DNR that has contributed to the health of the walleye fishery and that of the other fish species present in the lake. The lake has a “slot’ size for walleyes which works well and the management of walleyes on our Lake Wisconsin is similar. All walleyes between 18.0” and 28.0” must be immediately released. Fish less than 18.0 inches may be kept with a possession limit of 4 fish, with only one fish over 28 inches. There is no minimum size for walleyes. Northern pike must be released if they are between 24.0 inches and 36.0 inches. The possession limit is 3 fish with only one fish over 36 inches and no spearing is permitted. Smallmouth bass must be released if they are less than 21.0 inches. The possession limit is one fish. Tullibee or northern cisco have no size minimum and a possession limit of 10 fish. Muskellunge must be released if less than 48 inches with a possession limit of one fish. There also is no culling of fish in Minnesota, so if you put a fish in your live well you cannot release it for another fish. Check www.mndnr.gov/ fishing for any other regulations and rule changes.

This 'eye was released back into the lake. Notice the DNR tag near the dorsal fin.

This 'eye was released back into the lake. Notice the DNR tag near the dorsal fin.

Since this was an outing to try and use the LakeMaster Digital Map Card, the guides and pro anglers had the 2009 chips in their Lowrance electronics with the Minnesota GPS cards. The Minnesota Map Card shows 770 lakes including Lake Superior with excellent depth contours. One of the nice things about the LakeMaster map cards is that they show shallow water contours better than any other cards or chips, unprecedented accuracy, and detailed and accurate background data including roads, highways, and cities. ProMap Technologies, the survey arm of Lakemaster, collects high density sonar soundings associated with exact latitude/longitude positions. This data is then converted into high definition contour maps. We used the Lakemaster Map Cards when fishing Mille Lacs Lake and I was amazed at the accuracy these cards showed on a structure-filled lake. I have used all the Chips or cards on the market and would highly recommend the LakeMaster products.

The other writers, guides, pro’s, and I fished the waters of Mille Lacs for three days with very good success. The tactics and techniques we used were two of the most common ways that this lake is fished in the early summer. If there was a good wind, you fished the break lines, rocks, and weeds with slip-floats, a plain # 6 or 8 circle hook, and a fat, lively leech. The smaller hook allowed the leech to swim freely with more natural action. The wind gave you more action with the slip float when casted and allowed to drift over weeds and structure. The other technique that we used with success was live-bait rigging with a ½ ounce egg sinker attached with a barrel swivel, a 6 to 8 foot fluorocarbon snell, a # 8 circle hook, and a whole nightcrawler or leech. Then, you would drift across the many mud flats concentrating on the sharp breaks which were stacked with walleyes. Mille Lacs Lake seems to always have a decent wind which may explain why they use slip-floats and drift across the varied structure for much of their fishing. When drifting, a Minn Kota trolling motor comes in handy as does a wind sock for slowing down your drift otherwise you would be moving too fast for finicky walleyes.

Another fact that makes fishing Minnesota different than Wisconsin is that only one rod is allowed per person while in Wisconsin you may legally use three rods which makes fishing up and down the water column easier, more effective, and also allows you to cover more water while searching for fish. Anglers also cast and troll for other game fish, but live bait rigging and slip float fishing are the most used and most effective tactics for walleyes.
There are many resorts on the lake for fishermen and their families with many activities for the family to do besides fish. But, this is a serious fishing lake that caters to anglers. Most resorts also have launches which are like a charter boat for smaller lakes. The launches can range from 25 to 50 feet long and can hold up to 40 people. They fish half and full days with a fee of about $30.00 to $40.00 per person (1/2 day) which includes everything you need in equipment and gear. The boats are covered and the experienced guides put their clients on fish which are usually walleyes and perch. This is a great way to fish, especially if you don’t have a boat.

I stayed at a wonderful resort called Hunter Winfield’s (www.hunterwinfields.com) which is at the south end of the lake near Isle, Minnesota. There cabins are fully furnished and remodeled with all you need for a great vacation. Email Mike and Margie Christensen for more information on this quality resort. The resort is on the lake with a launch, guides, and anything a fishing family or group could want. The only problem that I found was that we were catching too many big fish in the slot range from 23 to 26 inches. But, I was trying for larger fish for photos and not the frying pan. If you need more information feel free to contact me at www.garyengbergoutdoors.com. When looking at the new electronics, be sure to try the LakeMaster Digital Map Card. It has more lakes on the Wisconsin Card than any competitors with a better contour representation to help make your fishing outing a success!

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