There has been much discussion about Mille Lacs Lake and the closing of the walleye season. Many folks feel that the netting of walleyes by the Mille Lacs band of Ojibwa is the culprit but I don’t really believe that it is the only culprit. According to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr the lake has been co-managed with the Mille lacs band since the 1990’s. There are many theories as to why it happened but right now there seems to be no easy fix.
The Mille Lacs Band has suspended netting for a year except for ceremonial purposes. They have a stake in this as well as the local resort owners and local businesses. Most people drive to this large body of water for one reason: to fish walleye. When that option is taken away tourism takes a big hit. Although the lake has an abundance of smallmouth, northern and musky; these fish do not draw the same number of fishermen that the walleye do.
There are many opinions out there but I see no “quick fix” to the situation but hopefully the DNR will come up with a plan that will work and restore the lake to what it once was. Red Lake was in a similar situation a decade or so ago and has since come back to be a viable walleye lake once again so there is light at the end of the tunnel but for some resort owners and businesses the end of that tunnel may be too far away.
I have from time to time written about my outdoors experiences as a youth. This time, however, I’d like to move ahead a few years to when the boys were small and we would vacation at Big Sand Lake near Squaw Lake. My wife Jean and her family vacationed there almost every year while she was growing up. The resort that they stayed at was Anchor Inn and the fact that it is still there almost makes it unique in this day and age. Jean and her siblings will occasionally talk about the fun that they had fishing from the bridge at Anchor Inn. This resort actually sits on the Bowstring River which runs between Little Sand and Rice Lakes. You can get to Big Sand by navigating the channel between Big and Little Sand.
During the years that our family vacationed at Big Sand we often stayed at a resort called Sioux City Resort. This resort like many other “mom & pop” resorts has been sold off and is no longer there. We had many great times at that resort when the kids were younger and before we had our camper. I have many fond memories of the lake and the resort that once prospered amongst the tall pines on the west shore of the lake.
It was and most likely still is a very good walleye lake, especially early in the year. There is a large island situated directly east of where the resort once was and I can recall more than one occasion where deer could be seen swimming either to or from the island. I had actually fished the lake with my Uncle Ben when he and Aunt Marcie took me along with them for a week‘s vacation. We had driven to Deer River and stopped at an information building that used to stand along the highway in Deer River. Ben asked if there was a resort in the area that might have a vacancy and they told us that there was a resort on Portage Lake by Inger, which was on the south end of Big Sand and connected to it by the Bowstring River. The couple that owned the resort were originally from Geneva which gave real meaning to the phrase “it’s a small world”. That week we caught a lot of northern, and some dandy crappie. In the evening we would go and anchor on the Sand Lake side where the river came in and fished walleye. Using a jig and minnow we managed to boat some nice eaters and that made the whole week seem like a dream come true to this aspiring young fisherman.
When we started taking vacations as a family I usually tried to take the first full week in June which seemed to be the best for walleye on that lake. With no locator to guide me I would use trees, points and cabins to mark good fishing spots. Out in front of the old brown cabin seemed to be the hotspot almost every year. Jean would also fish and Brian was now old enough to fish while Brad sat on a blanket in the bottom of the boat and played with his Hot Wheels and coloring book. This was the only way that the whole family could get out fishing.
Those were good times and we always caught plenty of walleyes; the northern were plentiful but there were a lot of “hammer handles” and today the lake has no slot limit for walleye but a 9 fish limit for pike that are 22-inches and under. We did actually catch some dandy pike in that lake over the years.
Each year as the calendar turns over to June I think back to those days vacationing at Sioux City Resort and catching walleye on Big Sand Lake. I do believe that I have psyched myself up enough to plan on fishing Big Sand, at least for a day, on the first full week of next June.
Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.