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No keepers: Walleye catch-and-release on Mille Lacs this summer

The DNR says poor ice conditions on many other lakes focused attention on Mille Lacs, resulting in the highest fishing pressure there in 30 years.
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Walleye-Stock Image

MILLE LACS, Minn. — Record pressure from ice fishermen this winter is partially blamed for another summer of catch-and-release walleye fishing on Lake Mille Lacs. 

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says poor ice conditions on many other lakes focused attention on Mille Lacs, resulting in the highest fishing pressure there in 30 years. DNR fisheries specialists say  almost 30,000 pounds of walleye were harvested, leaving only 57,800 pounds available under the safe harvest level established for 2020 by the state and 8 Chippewa bands that have treaty fishing rights.

Not only can anglers not keep any walleye, they can't fish them AT ALL during July. 

“We know any summer walleye closure is disappointing, but anglers have told us they prefer a planned temporary closure in July to an unplanned one later in the season,” said Brad Parsons, fisheries section manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The addition of the live bait ban allows for the shortest closure to ensure we remain within the set allocation and support the long-term interest of the walleye fishery.”

Walleye are particularly vulnerable in July because as water temperatures increase, so does “hooking mortality” - where fish die after being caught and released. By stopping walleye fishing when walleye are most vulnerable, anglers could potentially gain two months or more of late-summer and fall fishing.

Walleye season opens on Saturday, May 9, and continues through Monday, Nov. 30.

The DNR adds that anglers will not be allowed to use live bait to fish for ANY species in July (when walleye fishing is completely prohibited) except sucker minnows greater than 8 inches in length for targeting northern pike and muskellunge.

Other new regulations

The DNR has often used quality fishing for bass, northern pike, and muskellunge on Mille Lacs to soothe angry fishermen who can't keep any walleye, but this year there are new regulations that impact those species as well. 

They include:

  • Immediate release of all smallmouth and largemouth bass greater than 17 inches during the harvest season that begins Saturday, May 23.
  • Limit of three largemouth and smallmouth bass.
  • Release all northern pike greater than 30 inches.
  • Limit of three northern pike from Saturday, May 9, through Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

The DNR heard good support for these bass and pike changes.

“People who come to Mille Lacs for smallmouth and northern pike are hoping to catch a real trophy,” Parsons said. 

More information about fishing regulations on Mille Lacs Lake, ongoing DNR management and research, and Mille Lacs-area recreation opportunities is available on the DNR website.

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