A hot walleye bite on Mille Lacs attracted loads of visitors in July and August, a combination that put the state at its annual harvest limit and will end the walleye season on Mille Lacs in another 10 days.
Starting at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 6, state-licensed anglers will no longer be able to target the state fish on the big lake. Walleye regulations for the winter season will be announced in November.
State fisheries chief Brad Parsons said the fishing action was especially favorable in July, when catch rates reached a level not seen on Mille Lacs since 2012. “Fishing has been so good all year up there … a lot of people went to the lake,’’ Parsons said.
Mille Lacs has special fishing regulations set under a co-management system with Ojibwe tribal officials. The agreement this year was for the state to stay within a safe harvest level of 87,800 pounds. The safe harvest level for the bands was set at 62,200 pounds.
Parsons said angler surveys completed by the DNR about a week ago indicated that the state had nearly reached its limit. By the time additional harvest is counted, Minnesota should be within an allowable overage for the year, he said.
Last winter, state-licensed anglers were allowed to keep one walleye between 21 and 23 inches, or one fish over 28 inches.
When the open-water season began, the same regulation applied for three weeks. Since then, it’s been catch-and-release fishing only.
Even though state-licensed anglers could only catch walleyes and release them for June, July and August, the DNR factored hooking mortality into its calculations of harvest. The mortality rate of fish caught and released soars when water temperatures rise.
Fisheries managers have been keeping a close eye on Mille Lacs’ famed walleye population while they study why young walleyes are struggling to survive into their third year of life.
“Regulations allowed some harvest this year, but it’s still important to proceed with caution to ensure continued recovery of the lake’s walleye,’’ Parsons said.