Seth Feider is in much better shape as he comes into this year’s Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, but he worries some about Mille Lacs, his home lake.
Oh, it’s still plenty good, just not dynamite like last year when he won the weight derby with 76 pounds, 5 ounces. The Bloomington, Minn., pro averaged 25-7 of smallmouth over three days to show off the fishery. However, he narrowly missed qualifying for his first Classic.
In all, the 50 anglers who competed on Mille Lacs caught 139 limits, and their 729 bass totaled 2,878 pounds, 5 ounces, for an average of 3.95 pounds per fish.
After last year’s event, Feider left knowing the aftermath would surely be a blessing to the lake’s struggling businesses, but it could also spell trouble for the world-class smallmouth fishery.
“It’s good and bad,” he said. “The economy needs the help, but the increased pressure might turn that place into something not as special as it is right now. I know it’s going to get a lot more pressure in the next couple years. It always does after B.A.S.S. goes somewhere and the place shows off.”
While the Elites had an exemption to bring in five fish (Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources relaxed the rule to attract major tournaments), for average anglers in 2016 the daily limit on Mille Lacs was four bass, with only one longer than 21 inches. That had been decreased from 2015’s daily creel of six.
“What made that lake is it was essentially catch and release for smallmouth for 15 years. That’s what turned it into the monster it is,” Feider said. “The last couple years, with the walleye fishing shut down, they opened up smallmouth for harvest.”
Walleye is among the favorite fish to eat in the region, said Feider, but he believes years of hungry anglers limiting out created a decline in the population. The daily limits kept shrinking, and this summer, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources instituted catch and release only, with periods where anglers could not target walleye at all.
Over the past few years, walleye boats (called launches) with 20 or more anglers had been suffering, and with walleye off the table, many switched to smallmouth after more liberal limits were offered.
EATING AWAY THE POPULATION
“The Minnesota mentality is the reason why walleye fishing was stopped,” Feider said. “The guys whine, ‘Oh, there’s no walleye.’ But they’ve never let one go in their entire life. They kept every single one and whine. Well, you ate them all. You could keep catching those fish if you let them go.”
Feider worries the same thing could happen to smallmouth if actions aren’t taken. He, along with Bassmaster TV host Mark Zona, former Classic champ and AOY winner Denny Brauer and legendary anglers Ron and Al Lindner, are honorary board members of the Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance. It’s a non-profit organization espousing catch and release fishing for smallmouth bass, and calling for the DNR to decrease limits.
“I’d really like it to go back to all catch and release or very select harvest -- keep a few under 16 inches,” Feider said. “The fish up here just take too long to grow. Those 5-, 6-pounders are 20 years old. Once their gone, they’re gone.”