Walleye-seekers on Lake Mille Lacs will be granted a one-fish bag limit throughout the summer under expanded harvest opportunities made possible by an improving walleye population, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said Thursday.
The new regulation is a departure from recent years when closures and catch-and-release rules dominated Mille Lacs walleye fishing during the summer months. Gone, too, are bans on the use of live bait to catch the state fish.
"We are pleased to see improvement in both the growth of adult walleye and survival of young walleye in Mille Lacs,'' DNR fisheries chief Brad Parsons said in a news release. "Those factors create opportunity for anglers to have a continuous harvest season in 2023.''
Keepers must be 21 to 23 inches in length or greater than 28 inches.
Another factor in liberalizing harvest opportunities was slow fishing this winter when, the DNR said, ice anglers caught only 4,300 pounds of walleye. Parsons said catch rates were lowered by a greater abundance of forage in the lake combined with poor ice conditions early in the season.
Dean Hanson, owner of Agate Bay Resort on Mille Lacs and co-chair of the Mille Lacs Lake fisheries advisory committee, said he's "not ecstatic, but reasonably satisfied,'' with the DNR's latest Mille Lacs walleye angling restrictions.
"We were hoping to get a 20- to 23-inch walleye harvest slot this summer, but according to the DNR's calculations we would have reached our harvest quota and been closed to fishing by July,'' Hanson said.
"Under the 21- to 23-inch slot, we should be open all year, which will be popular among a lot of people.''
The harvest quota for state-licensed anglers on Mille Lacs is set annually under a shared management system involving the DNR and eight Ojibwe bands that have treaty fishing rights. As always, Parsons said, the DNR can adjust regulations during the season as needed to stay within the state's overall quota.
Hanson said he is "extremely optimistic'' about the lake based on DNR surveys showing a healthy walleye population, along with abundant perch and other forage fish.
Mille Lacs fishing guide Tony Roach, a fellow advisory committee member, agreed.
"We're starting to see a lot of recruitment of young walleyes in Mille Lacs,'' Roach said. "This winter we caught walleyes in the 10- to 12-inch range and a bunch in the 14-inch range. The gap between walleye year classes was the problem before with Mille Lacs. Now I think we're moving in the right direction.''
Keeping Mille Lacs walleye fishing open this summer without DNR-mandated shutdowns also will benefit resorts and other Mille Lacs businesses, Roach and Hanson said.
"The midsummer closures in past years were disruptive and made it tough for customers to plan their vacations,'' Roach said.
Star Tribune outdoors columnist Dennis Anderson contributed to this report.