DNR: Mille Lacs walleye fishing will be catch-and-release until August

DNR: Mille Lacs walleye fishing will be catch-and-release until August

DNR: Mille Lacs walleye fishing will be catch-and-release until August

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has set open-water fishing regulations for walleye on Mille Lacs for the upcoming season.

Mille Lacs walleye fishing will be catch-and-release from May 11 through Aug. 15 as part of the new regulations. Starting on Aug. 16, anglers can keep walleye 21-23 inches in length or greater than 28 inches, the DNR says.

“It gives us a chance to see how the fishing is going, and we make adjustments as needed, through the season if we have to,” says Brian Nerbonne, a DNR Fisheries Manager for the St. Paul region. “But our plan is to offer that harvest opportunity in August.”

“Despite poor ice conditions, anglers caught a lot of walleye this past fall and winter because those fish weren’t finding enough to eat,” said DNR Fisheries Section Manager Brad Parsons. “We need to adjust the open water season regulations to account for the active bite and for the likelihood of higher water temperatures this summer. Even with catch-and-release regulations, many fish die when water temperatures get too warm.”

The DNR’s 2023 Mille Lacs assessment found slightly lower walleye numbers in 2022, but the overall population remains healthy because of the high number of walleye born in 2013 and 2017. Assessment results also show decent numbers of walleye born in 2021 and 2022 that will contribute to the walleye population in the future.

Population estimates, netting surveys and population models by DNR show there are fewer yellow perch and tullibee, which are the primary food sources for walleye in Mille Lacs.

“It seems logical that high catch rates mean there are more walleye in the lake,” Parsons said. “The data we’ve collected and analyzed suggest the hot bite is because walleye aren’t finding as many tullibee and perch to eat. Our management decisions take those data into account.”

Every year, a safe harvest level is set through discussion between the state and Ojibwe tribes, with each party setting regulations to stay within their share of the harvest. This year, the walleye safe harvest level was lowered by 10% from 2023, setting it at 91,500 pounds for state-licensed anglers and 65,500 pounds for tribal fishing.

“I feel for the business owners that had a tough winter this year, and I recognize that,” Nerbonne said. “The state’s going to do our best to keep the fisheries and keep people going up there fishing. I think that’s very important for these businesses during their summer season.”

The DNR says the new rules could be adjusted if conditions change as the season continues.

Click here for complete Mille Lacs fishing regulations and surveys.