Anglers on Mille Lacs Lake will be able to keep walleye during open water fishing for the first time since 2015. An improving walleye population has been protected by conservative fishing regulations in recent years, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
Mille Lacs anglers will be able to keep one walleye between 21 and 23 inches or one walleye over 28 inches from Saturday, May 11, through Friday, May 31.
“It’s good news that anglers get to keep some walleye this May, but we are being cautious,” said Brad Parsons, DNR fisheries chief. “These regulations represent a careful balance between expanding fishing opportunities and conserving the fishery for the future.”
Similar to recent years, a night closure for the 2019 walleye fishing season will be in effect on Mille Lacs from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. beginning Monday, May 13. The night walleye closure will remain in effect throughout the entire open-water season, which ends Nov. 30.
Catch-and-release fishing for walleye begins Saturday, June 1, and other than the night closure, there are no planned closures for walleye fishing this season.
The DNR is able to allow this limited harvest opportunity because of an improving walleye population bolstered by a 2013 year class of fish that has been protected by conservative fishing regulations. The 2013 year class is starting to produce young fish that appear to be surviving.
The DNR expects a strong increase in the number of anglers fishing during the period when walleye harvest is allowed. Allowing the harvest during May, when water temperatures are lower, will limit the mortality of released walleye associated with this increase in pressure. Both harvested fish and those that die as a result of being caught and released are counted against the state’s walleye harvest allocation.
The Mille Lacs walleye population has undergone many changes over the past two decades that have coincided with significant aquatic system changes including increased water clarity and decreased walleye productivity; the introduction of zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny water fleas; a changing zooplankton community that may be altering the aquatic food web; and declines in certain forage species, including tullibee.
The DNR encourages Minnesotans and out-of-state visitors to fish the other abundant species that Mille Lacs Lake has to offer in addition to walleye.
The lake is nationally recognized as one of the nation’s top smallmouth bass and muskellunge fisheries. In 2017, Bassmaster Magazine named Mille Lacs the number one bass fishing lake in the nation. The lake hosted the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship in 2016 and 2017.
Minnesota’s bass season opens Saturday, May 11, and is catch-and-release only in most of the state, including Mille Lacs, through Friday, May 24. Beginning on Saturday, May 25, Mille Lacs’ daily bag and possession limit will be three bass per angler. All smallmouth and largemouth bass between 17 and 21 inches must be immediately released. Anglers may keep only one bass over 21 inches. In a change this year, smallmouth bass are catch-and-release only on Mille Lacs from Monday, Sept. 9, through Feb. 23, 2020, to be consistent with statewide regulations.
Mille Lacs Lake has special regulations that exempt it from the new statewide northern pike zone regulations. From May 11 through Nov. 30, anglers may keep up to five fish. Only one northern pike over 40 inches may be included in the bag limit of five, and anglers must release all pike between 30 and 40 inches.
Special night fishing opportunities
For muskellunge, the season opens on Saturday, June 1, with the statewide rules of a one fish bag and a minimum length of 54 inches. Beginning June 1, anglers may fish for muskellunge and northern pike at night on Mille Lacs, but may only possess and use artificial lures or sucker minnows longer than 8 inches.
Bowfishing for rough fish is allowed at night on Mille Lacs starting June 1 but possession of angling equipment is not allowed and only rough fish may be in possession.
State and tribal allocations
The state and the Ojibwe tribes with harvest rights in Mille Lacs Lake agreed on a 2019 safe harvest level of 150,000 pounds of walleye, resulting in a state allocation of 87,800 pounds. Under the catch-and-release only regulation last year, walleye angler kill totaled just over 47,000 pounds.
The walleye safe harvest level for Mille Lacs Lake is determined annually. It is based on population status and predictions of how harvest will affect the walleye population in the future. State anglers share the safe harvest level with the eight bands of Ojibwe that have fishing rights under an 1837 treaty. By agreement, the bands and the state are required to monitor harvest according to their respective allocations.
More information about fishing on Mille Lacs Lake, ongoing DNR management and research, and Mille Lacs area recreation opportunities is available on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/millelacslake.