DNR: Anglers can keep one walleye on Mille Lacs this winter

Ice fishing houses are pictured 03 Febru
Ice fishing houses on Mille Lacs Lake in 2006. The lake is one of the most popular destinations for ice fishing in the US.
AFP | Getty Images file 2006

Anglers will be allowed to fish for walleye on Mille Lacs Lake this winter. The Department of Natural Resources announced Monday that starting Dec. 1, the rules will be a limit of one walleye between 21-23 inches, or one fish over 28 inches.

Those rules are similar to what the agency enforced last winter.

“It’s good news that anglers will be able to harvest walleye again this winter,” said Sarah Strommen, DNR commissioner. “We’re encouraged to see evidence that our conservative approach to Mille Lacs is paying off, allowing continued walleye angling opportunities on this renowned fishing lake.”

Mille Lacs' walleye population had fallen significantly in recent years, and officials have struggled to balance the demands of local businesses dependent on walleye fishing with the need to rebuild the fishery.

In 2016, the DNR went to catch-and-release only and banned the use of live bait. That decision prompted anger from resort owners and anglers. In 2017, the DNR not only closed Mille Lacs to walleye keepers, it stopped all walleye fishing for about a month in mid-summer, the peak of the season, to cut down on the hooking mortality of walleye who were caught and released but still didn't survive.

Last year's open water rules were essentially a continuation of 2017.

Ahead of the 2019 open water season, the agency announced a shift that one walleye could be kept during a few weeks in the spring. The iconic lake then went back to catch and release for the remainder of the summer.

In its announcement, the DNR said a recent assessment found that the walleye population has remained relatively stable over the past three years, having rebounded from population lows that were recorded between 2012 and 2016.

Conservative fishing regulations in response to the population lows have contributed to the recovery, and allowed the DNR to offer a harvest opportunity in recent winters as well as in May 2019 during the open water fishing season.

Despite the promising news, officials said they are still taking a cautious approach ahead of next year.

“If high catch rates continue this winter, harvest may exceed the 15,000 pounds of walleye taken last winter. This may also directly affect open water angling opportunities,” said Brad Parsons, DNR fisheries section manager.

Parson added that “We expect the walleye bite to be quite good on Mille Lacs this winter, which will likely result in a lot of fishing pressure and a relatively high harvest.”

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