Mille Lacs walleye season closes Monday evening

Lake Mille Lacs
The walleye fishing season will close Monday evening on Lake Mille Lacs. Photo taken near Garrison, Minn., on Aug. 21, 2013.
Conrad Wilson | MPR News 2013

Walleye fishing on Lake Mille Lacs will close at 10 p.m. on Monday, state conservation officials said Sunday.

The move was expected. Officials had been signaling for more than a week that the quota was near and that the season might shut quickly.

Walleye numbers in Mille Lacs have been a growing concern for state leaders. Minnesota's best known walleye fishery received its tightest restrictions when the state Department of Natural Resources announced in April that anglers on Mille Lacs would be allowed to keep only one walleye daily this season instead of two.

On Sunday, the DNR said a recent angler survey it conducted found the walleye harvest by anglers has exceeded the state's allotment for 2015 by more than 2,000 pounds, which compelled the agency to end the season. The closure stays in place through the end of November.

"This action is necessary to conserve walleye populations in Mille Lacs Lake for the long term," DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said in a statement announcing the closure.

DNR surveys show plenty of young walleye in Mille Lacs, but biologists say the fish haven't been surviving to adulthood. Landwehr added that high catch rates and high mortality in July put this year's catch well past the annual allotment. "It was really a set of unprecedented circumstances in that first two weeks of July that pushed us dramatically outside of our predicted harvest," he said on a conference call.

Other fish species including smallmouth bass, northern pike and muskellunge remain abundant in the lake, and "fishing for these species will remain open with loosened regulations that allow anglers to keep more of what they catch," the DNR said Sunday.

On Friday, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe agreed not to net walleye next year to help rebuild the fishery. Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday met with resort owners, fishing guides and others with a stake in Mille Lacs' future looking for answers.

The governor is pushing now for a special legislative session to aid businesses and others hurt by the early closing.