Anglers on Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota will get to keep one walleye daily early in the 2021 open water fishing season and then, if the summer’s catch isn’t too large, keep a walleye late in the season as well.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday announced it will allow one fish daily from the May 15 fishing opener through May 31. The fish must be between 21 and 23 inches long or be over 28 inches, and all other walleyes must be released.
Walleye fishing on the big lake will be catch-and-release only in June before walleye fishing will be banned entirely from July 1-15. Catch-and-release only fishing will resume July 16 to Sept. 15, at which point the DNR expects to allow one walleye daily to be kept again from Sept. 16 through Nov. 30
“Lower walleye harvest this winter is allowing us to offer some open-water walleye harvest this year,” said Brad Parsons, fisheries section manager for the DNR, in a statement Tuesday. “We’re glad Mille Lacs anglers will have the chance to keep a walleye on opening weekend and Memorial Day weekend — two of the most popular times to fish during the year. We also hope to be able to allow some harvest this fall.”
After opening weekend, when night fishing will be allowed, fishing hours on Mille Lacs Lake will be 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. for all species, except beginning June 5, muskellunge and northern pike anglers using artificial lures or sucker minnows longer than 8 inches can fish after 10 p.m.
The state has severely restricted harvest on Mille Lacs in recent years after a crash in the overall walleye population and because of increased angler pressure. Now, the DNR says some harvest can safely occur with walleye numbers slowly rebounding.
“Our projections strongly suggest that fall harvest can occur,” Parsons said. “However, predicting fishing pressure, catch rates and weather involves some uncertainty so we want people to recognize that the fall harvest will depend on how much of the state’s 2021 walleye allocation remains as we approach September.”
The state and the eight Chippewa bands that have treaty fishing rights agreed Mille Lacs could sustain a state harvest of up to 87,800 pounds of walleye this year, unchanged from 2020. Last year, state-licensed anglers took 66,748 pounds and tribal fishing took 33,113 pounds.
This year’s winter walleye harvest was about 16,000 pounds, about half of what it was in 2020. Lower catch rates for anglers, combined with fewer people fishing, caused harvest to return to normal levels after a big spike last year. That drop in walleye take gave the DNR more flexibility to implement a one-fish limit during the early season and plan one for the late season.
Even with the drop in winter harvest, a two-week closure during what’s normally one of the hottest times of the summer remains necessary to protect walleye. As water temperature increases, so does hooking mortality — the tendency for fish to die after being caught and released. Protecting walleye during this vulnerable period can allow for harvest during cooler times of the year.
To help avoid incidental catch of walleye during the two-week closure, fishing for any species with certain kinds of bait will be restricted — except that anglers targeting northern pike and muskellunge can use sucker minnows longer than 8 inches. Anglers targeting other fish may not use live, dead, preserved or parts of minnows, night crawlers, worms, leeches or crayfish.