Mille Lacs walleye anglers will be limited to two fish beginning May 11, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday morning.
The harvest slot wil be 18 to 20 inches. One walleye in the two-fish limit can be larger than 28 inches.
Last year the limit was four walleyes, with only walleyes under 17 inches allowed to be kept, except that one could be longer 28 inches. Fish the smaller size were difficult to find.
Changes also are coming this summer to smallmouth bass and northern pike limits on the big lake.
The lake’s 27- to 40-inch protected slot regulation for northerns will be narrowed to a 33- to 40-inch protected slot, with one longer than 40 inches. The possession limit is three.
In a news release Tuesday morning, the DNR also said that the smallmouth bass bag limit and slot limit will be broadened to allow for more harvest. The new regulation is a 17- to 20-inch protected slot. The possession limit is six, with only one longer than 20 inches in possession. Previously, all smallmouth bass less than 21 inches had to be immediately released and the possession limit was one.
“We want Mille Lacs to continue to be a world-class walleye fishing destination,” said Dirk Peterson, DNR fisheries chief. “Currently, the size and structure of the walleye population isn’t where we want it. We are committed to remedying the situation as quickly as possible through regulations that are designed to increase survival of the lake’s younger and smaller walleye.
“The smallmouth bass and northern pike regulations are designed to protect smaller walleye until we have better information on what these predator species are eating,” said Peterson. “We’ll be starting a predator diet study this spring. Meanwhile, the regulations will allow anglers some additional non-walleye harvest opportunities while also retaining solid numbers of trophy-sized fish.”
The DNR said it wants to conserve the lake’s large 2008 year-class of walleye because no strong year-class is coming up behind these fish. Fish in this year-class are 15- to 17-inches in length.
The new rules, the DNR said, intend to keep the total walleye kill below the combined state-tribal 2013 safe harvest level of 250,000 pounds. Fishing regulations may be adjusted if angler kill is expected to be either too high or lower than anticipated. This year’s safe harvest level is the lowest established since treaty management began in 1997.
In the DNR release, Tom Jones, Mille Lacs Lake coordinator, said a 2-inch walleye harvest slot is not unprecedented on Mille Lacs, having been implemented in 2001, 2002 and 2007. He said the state’s walleye harvest has been below this year’s allocation level of 178,500 pounds four of the last 10 years and in 2005 the harvest was below 200,000 pounds.
The lake is also becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable, the DNR said. This is due largely to changes due to the presence of unwanted aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels, spiny water flea and Eurasian watermilfoil.
These factors, plus a state and tribal harvest management strategy that focused largely on walleyes in the 14- to 18-inch range, all have contributed to a declining walleye population, according to the DNR.
Jones said despite the declining walleye population, winter walleye fishing was good, which typically suggests good fishing in spring.