A planned temporary shutdown of walleye fishing this month on Lake Mille Lacs, even catch and release, will take effect this week and last for most of the rest of the month in an effort to preserve the struggling population of the prized species.
Combined with a night-fishing ban already in place on the popular 207-square-mile lake, walleye fishing will come to a halt starting at 10:01 p.m. Thursday and last until 6:01 a.m. on July 28.
“Conserving the Mille Lacs walleye fishery is a top priority for [the] DNR, and the closure is happening when fish are most vulnerable to stress from warm weather and high fishing [demand],” said Don Pereira, fisheries chief for the state Department of Natural Resources.
Catch and release is part of the ban, the DNR explains, because fish have a tendency to die after being released, and what is called “hook mortality” becomes more prevalent as water temperatures warm.
After the full closure, first announced in March, anglers can resume catch and release of walleye on Mille Lacs through Labor Day — Sept. 4. Then the clamps come down again through all of November.
For the past two summers, anglers have been limited to the catch and release of walleye on Mille Lacs, the state’s third-largest lake. Wintertime walleye fishing also has come under tighter limits of late. Last November, anglers could keep one walleye, and it had to be either 19 to 21 inches in length or a trophy catch of longer than 28 inches.
While walleye are off limits, anglers can pursue all other species in the lake, including bass, muskellunge and northern pike.
The DNR rules for July are designed so anglers cannot “target” walleye. Specifically, that means anglers may use only artificial baits and lures, except for sucker minnows greater than 8 inches long.
In support of the Mille Lacs’ fishing-related economy, Gov. Mark Dayton will take to the lake Saturday in pursuit of a fish that can be hooked and cooked: bass. Dayton will wet his line from a Fisher’s Resort launch boat near the northeastern shore of the lake.
While the lake has long been considered a walleye fishing hot spot, it was ranked last week as the nation’s best body of water for bass fishing. Bassmaster Magazine put Mille Lacs atop its ranking of the 100 best bass lakes.
In concert with Dayton’s fishing excursion, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote walleye fishing on Mille Lacs is planning a protest near the resort.
“Please join us in a show of support for Lake Mille Lacs walleye,” read the announcement from Douglas Meyenburg, president of Proper Economic Resource Management, a business advocacy group that long has challenged the DNR’s regulatory strategies. “Head up early, have breakfast at an area resort or restaurant, show your support, do a little fishing and have a meal locally before leaving.”
It’s been more than 20 years since the state began managing Mille Lacs together with Minnesota and Wisconsin Ojibwe bands, whose members harvest walleye with nets but have been consistently under their quota.
For more information about fishing limits and other regulations for Lake Mille Lacs, visit dnr.state.mn.us/fishing/millelacs.html.