ISLE, MINN. – Three Mille Lacs walleye angling options for the open-water season beginning in May were presented to a stakeholders group here Tuesday evening by state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fisheries managers, each of which would allow some walleye harvest this summer on the big lake.
No decisions were made — DNR fisheries chief Brad Parsons said his staff will finalize a Mille Lacs walleye regulation sometime next month. But members of the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee agreed any walleye-fishing closure this summer should be avoided at all costs.
“A closure is the worst situation possible,” said Bill Eno, owner of Twin Pines Resort.
For four consecutive summers, Mille Lacs walleye anglers have been restricted to catch-and-release fishing. An unplanned walleye closure occurred on the lake in August 2015 when anglers exceeded the quota assigned to the state in a co-management agreement with eight Chippewa bands.
And in 2017, in midsummer, walleye angling was suspended to keep anglers within their quota. Both closures hurt area businesses.
“Our goal,” Parsons told the group, “is to provide as much fishing opportunity as possible with some walleye harvest while avoiding a [walleye fishing] closure.”
This year the DNR and the Chippewa have agreed on a safe Mille Lacs walleye harvest beginning with the fishing opener May 11 of 150,000 pounds, with as much as 97,800 pounds allocated to anglers.
The lake’s walleyes have recovered enough, Parsons told committee members, that a limited harvest of walleyes 21 to 23 inches long is possible. Each regulation option would restrict anglers to one walleye in that size range. The options include:
• A harvest season in May and in the fall, with catch-and-release walleye fishing otherwise. Chance of an unplanned walleye-closure under this option: 15 to 20 percent.
• A one-walleye harvest season from May to June 15, with catch and release otherwise and no fall harvest. Chance of an unplanned closure: 15 to 30 percent.
• A one-walleye harvest season from May to June 15, with a planned closure sometime in July and August: This option would include a 10 to 20 percent risk of an unplanned closure.