For the first time in history, Mille Lacs anglers will be restricted to one walleye, due to the lake's record-low walleye population.
One walleye 19- to 21-inches long or one over 28 inches will be allowed on Mille Lacs when fishing opens Saturday, May 9, and an extended night fishing closure will again be in effect beginning the Monday after the opener.
The night fishing ban will be enforced from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., beginning May 11, and extend to Tuesday, Dec. 1.
The 2015 regulations for Mille Lacs Lake are:
• Walleye: Limit one and the fish must be 19- to 21-inches long or longer than 28 inches.
* Northern pike: Limit of 10. One fish may be longer than 30 inches only if two fish shorter than 30 inches are caught on the same trip and in possession.
* Bass: Limit of six smallmouth and largemouth bass in combination. Only one smallmouth bass may be longer than 18 inches.
The Mille Lacs 2015 walleye safe harvest level was reduced from 60,000 to 40,000 pounds so more fish potentially survive and spawn to improve the walleye population, the DNR said. State anglers can harvest up to 28,600 pounds of walleye. Eight Chippewa bands can harvest up to 11,400 pounds of walleye.
Last year, Mille Lacs anglers could keep two walleyes 18- to 20-inches long or one longer than 28 inches.
“This set of regulations is designed to minimize the likelihood that a catch-and-release only walleye fishing regulation would be needed later in the season to stay within the state’s safe harvest allocation,” Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief said.
The northern pike regulation change was suggested and supported by the Mille Lacs input group. Angling for northern pike runs May 9 through March 27, 2016.
“There was too much pressure on large northern pike last year when anglers and spearers could harvest one fish longer than 30 inches without restriction,” Pereira said. “So this year we’re experimenting with an earn-a-trophy concept that requires anglers to harvest more abundant smaller fish before they can take home a big fish.”
The smallmouth bass season begins May 9 and allows Mille Lacs anglers to harvest smallmouth bass until the last Sunday in February 2016. Anglers may keep six smallmouth and largemouth bass in combination, but only one smallmouth bass may be longer than 18 inches.
“The continuation of liberal northern pike and smallmouth bass regulations speak to the fact these species can withstand additional pressure because their populations are at or near record highs,” Pereira said. “The current walleye regulation and the extended night fishing closure will protect upcoming year classes of young walleye and adult spawning stock, and help ensure the harvest stays within the safe harvest level.”
There will be two exceptions to the night fishing ban this year for muskie and bow fishing. Beginning Monday, June 8, muskie anglers may fish at night with artificial lures longer than 8 inches or sucker minnows longer than 8 inches. Bow fishing for rough fish only also will be allowed at night beginning June 8 provided no angling equipment is in a boat.
“Night muskie fishing and bow fishing for rough fish are popular on Mille Lacs,” Pereira said. “Last year, all boats had to be off the water at night. This year, we’ave listened to stakeholders and adjusted the regulations to accommodate night fishing methods that are expected to have no impact on the walleye we’re trying to protect.”
Pereira said this year's Mille Lacs regulations reflect significant fish population changes in the lake. Walleye numbers are at a 40-year low. Northern pike numbers are at record highs. The smallmouth bass population has been increasing since the 1990s. Tullibee and perch populations, both important forage species, are relatively low.
“We’re encouraged by walleye hatched in 2013,” Pereira said. “That year class shows strong signs that more of those fish are surviving and will mature.”
Other factors contributing to the changing fishery on Mille Lacs and possibly influencing the survival of young walleye, the DNR said, include clearer water that may limit suitable habitat and increase vulnerability to predation, longer growing seasons related to climate change that may favor other species, and the indirect impacts of a variety of invasive species in the lake, including zebra mussels, spiny water fleas and Eurasian watermilfoil.
“Mille Lacs is a system under change and portions of that change began even prior to the intensive management that began in the late 1990s,” said Pereira. “The good news is that we have more than enough spawning walleye and a history of solid egg and fry production. What we need is for the walleye that hatch to grow into strong year classes for anglers to catch. That has’t happened since 2008. That’s why we are focused on protecting small walleye and our ample but declining walleye spawning stock.”
More information on Mille Lacs management can be found at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake.