Mille Lacs walleye anglers have already exceeded their annual harvest quota of 44,800 pounds, the Department of Natural Resources said Friday afternoon — even though the anglers have been restricted to catch-and-release fishing all summer.
The unexpected announcement means walleye fishing on the big lake can't resume until Friday, Aug. 11, the DNR said. Mille Lacs walleye fishing was scheduled to start again July 27, following a nearly three-week shutdown intended to keep anglers within their harvest quota.
The DNR said Friday it plans to invoke a provision in its agreement with eight Chippewa bands that share management of the lake's fisheries that will give anglers another 11,000 pounds of "harvest.'' The additional poundage should allow walleye fishing on Mille Lacs to continue through Sept. 4, the date previously set for a season-ending closure imposed to keep walleyes within their annual quota.
Walleye fishing will begin again on Mille Lacs on Dec. 1, when the harvest quota the DNR negotiates with the Chippewa is reset for another year. (The bands' Mille Lacs quota this year was 19,200 pounds.)
The DNR uses a formula based on creel data gathered at boat landings to estimate how many walleyes die after being caught and released by anglers. This is how the DNR determines "harvest'' even though anglers are not allowed to keep any fish.
As recently as last week, the DNR said anglers had harvested an estimated 31,769 pounds of Mille Lacs walleyes as of June 30.
But high walleye catch rates have been the rule this summer on Mille Lacs. And angler effort, measured by the number of anglers fishing the lake, is about double what it was in 2016, the DNR said Friday.
“Cooler than normal temperatures kept hooking mortality rates low, but more anglers fished Mille Lacs, particularly catching walleye longer than 20 inches,” DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira said. “That increased the poundage of fish caught and put us over our walleye quota.”
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr and Pereira noted in a press release that allowing for additional catch-and-release fishing in August is essential for area anglers and businesses.
Throughout the closure, anglers on Mille Lacs Lake may fish for all other species in the lake including bass, muskies and northern pike. When fishing for other species, only artificial baits and lures will be allowed in possession, except for anglers targeting northern pike or muskie, who may fish with sucker minnows longer than 8 inches.
A prohibition on night fishing will remain in place from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. through Nov. 30. However, anglers may fish for muskie and northern pike at night, but may only use artificial lures longer than 8 inches or sucker minnows longer than 8 inches. Bowfishing for rough fish also is allowed at night but possession of angling equipment is not allowed and only rough fish may be in possession.
Pereira said that a declining fish population can nevertheless offer excellent fishing, a condition he believes is occurring on Mille Lacs. This can occur in part because there is a shortage of food for larger walleyes. Last fall’s assessment showed that larger walleye were thinner than average.