Mille Lacs anglers will be able to keep one walleye between 21 and 23 inches, or one walleye more than 28 inches, during the first three weeks of the open-water fishing season — a regulation that ends three years of periodic closures and catch-and-release limitations.
The renewal of a walleye bag limit on the iconic lake starts May 11, the state's traditional fishing opener. On that weekend, anglers on Mille Lacs also can revel in all-night fishing. But on May 13, and for the rest of the season, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will enforce a night closure at 10 p.m. consistent with recent years.
The new rules will allow catch-and-release walleye fishing starting June 1. There are no planned closures for walleye fishing this season, the DNR said.
"It's good news that anglers get to keep some walleye this May, but we are being cautious," DNR Fisheries Chief Brad Parsons said. "These regulations represent a careful balance between expanding fishing opportunities and conserving the fishery for the future."
The walleye harvest on Mille Lacs is governed by annual poundage allotments established each year by fisheries biologists for the DNR and eight Chippewa bands. As co-managers of the fishery, both sides have recognized declines in the abundance and productivity of Mille Lacs walleyes.
Historically, it has been one of the most heavily fished walleye lakes in the country, and its naturally reproducing stock of walleyes has been contending with invasive species. The introduction of zebra mussels, spiny water fleas and Eurasian watermilfoil has coincided with changes in the lake's food web.
The DNR originally considered a spring and fall bag limit for Mille Lacs this year. But the idea of keeping fall walleyes was dropped to keep the state from exceeding its 2019 allocation of 87,800 pounds of walleye. Ice anglers already have harvested 15,000 pounds and the allocation also must cover estimated mortality from catch-and-release fishing.
Parsons said the 2019 regulation was crafted to avoid an overage and unplanned shutdown of walleye fishing.
"We heard very clearly that unplanned and planned closures are not helpful to any of us,'' he said.