Outtakes from the Fried Walleye Sandwich

20 Mar

Katie Cannon / Minnesota Lunch

The following Minnesota Lunch outtake comes from contributing author Susan Pagani:

While working on the Fried Walleye Sandwich, we met a lot of folks who were under the impression that slot limits were killing tourism, inhibiting visiting fishermen who would otherwise bring their boats and their money to the state during the walleye season.

In the course of our research, we discovered that slot limits have improved the walleye population – at least on the lakes we looked at – and that in 2010 the state’s walleye fishing licenses went up. Good news for all, though how it will affect tourism remains to be seen.

In the end, it seemed like old wounds and misconceptions prevail where there is a lack of new information. In the book we talk about the extraordinary rehabilitation of the Red Lake walleye population through a partnership of the Red Lake band of Ojibwe and the DNR, and also how walleye fishermen are beginning to take a fly fishermen’s approach to the sport – the thrill of the catch, not the trophy.

Below is a section on Mille Lacs lake that did not make the book – it is both humorous and demonstrative of the issues above.

Katie Cannon / Minnesota Lunch

We had heard about Mille Lacs before — it is, after all, the site of Garrison, MN, the legendary “Walleye Capital of the World.” It is also the home of the Blue Goose Inn, a bar and fish house that has been around since the 1940s, when its smoky back rooms allegedly hosted poker-playing mobsters and angling gangsters.

The original building burned down 20 years ago but the owners rebuilt, and the website had an appealing sentimentality about it that made the drive seem worthwhile. So, even though the lake was still frozen and the walleye season had ended, we called the Blue Goose and made an appointment to interview the owner. But when we got to the restaurant, a surprising thing happened: the bartender told us that the owner and manager had literally just run, yes bolted, out the back door. Gangsters indeed!

Katie Cannon / Minnesota Lunch

We had a walleye sandwich and chatted up a couple, who was on their way up North with 200 gallons of sap, which they planned to boil down to maple syrup. They shared memories of sticking their empties in the ceiling of the old Goose, and dancing the night away. “It was a neighborhood bar,” said Linda Zahler, “You could walk in and always know somebody. They might have been up from the cities just like you were, but it was the kind of place everybody came.”

Thomas Sax told us that he had once loved fishing for walleye so much that, in 1979, he and his first wife spent their honeymoon fishing for walleye. “There’s this creek that runs into Mille Lacs over by Wahkon. I was fishing there in the shallows and I hooked into a 9- or 10-pound walleye. It’s been a long time, but it had to be 29 inches.”

He too loved a walleye fried in Shore Lunch and served on a hoagie with some tartar sauce, tomato and lettuce — and a cold beverage.

They were a nostalgic pair, jolly in their own way, yet embittered about the state of walleye fishing and, like Hansen, the limits. “Since they started netting the fish, people refer to it as the dead sea,” said Zahler, “When I used to come here in the 70s, you would never go home without a 5-pound walleye and a couple of 4 or 5 pounders, now you fight all day just to catch a fish — and then you have to throw it back.”

Katie Cannon / Minnesota Lunch

“I just feel that if they would put back the fish we put back, if they would abide by the slot limit like we do, that would bring the population back up and help all of us — it would certainly help the economy.”

This seemed to be a common misperception. “They” in this case is the Mille Lacs band of Ojibwe, which because of an 1837 treaty with the state of Minnesota retains fishing and hunting rights, including being able to use gill nets on Lake Mille Lacs for non-commercial fishing.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which regulates the Mille Lacs walleye fishery along with tribal biologists, the eight Ojibwe bands subject to the treaty are allotted 132,000 pounds of walleye this year; the state may keep 411,000 pounds. “In the last few years, we’ve seen numbers fairly typical to what you would have seen 15-20 years ago,” said Mike Napp. “We try to keep the regulations consistent from year to year, including the slot limits, because it helps out the resorts and sportsman — they need to know what size and how many they can catch for planning.”

Katie Cannon / Minnesota Lunch

So, for the time being, he doesn’t see the slot limits changing. Napp also clarified that the gill nets the Mille Lacs band of Ojibwe use are designed to catch fish within the slot limit, and that band members fishing on a rod are subject to the slot limit.

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