Walleye fishing on Mille Lacs to stay open all summer

Fishing boats on a lake at sunset.
A group of fishermen head out to fish Mille Lacs Lake in May.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

Anglers will be able to fish for walleye on Mille Lacs Lake all summer this year.

In recent years, walleye fishing on the popular central Minnesota lake has closed for the first few weeks of July. Fisheries experts were concerned about hooking mortality — when fish die after they're caught and released — which occurs more frequently when water temperatures are warmer.

But the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said the walleye population is improving, and the winter harvest was lower this year, due in part to poor ice conditions.

So Mille Lacs anglers will be able to target walleye throughout the summer, with no July closure or ban on live bait. They can keep one walleye 21 to 23 inches long, or one longer than 28 inches.

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“We are pleased to see improvements in both the growth of adult walleye and survival of young walleye in Mille Lacs,” said Brad Parsons, DNR fisheries manager, in a news release.

The DNR said it will continue to monitor the lake's walleye population, and adjust the regulations if needed.

The lake has been changing over the past few decades as the water has gotten more clear and warmer, likely due both to septic system improvements that have reduced nutrient pollution, and the infestation of invasive zebra mussels, which are filter feeders.

A University of Minnesota study linked the improved water clarity in Mille Lacs to the decline of walleye, which prefer cool water and low-light conditions.

But there are some positive signs. The DNR said adult walleye in Mille Lacs grew well last year, and younger walleye have the potential to add numbers in the future. The lake is also home to a healthy population of northern pike and smallmouth bass.

The DNR co-manages the lake along with eight Ojibwe bands that have fishing rights under an 1837 treaty. They set a harvest limit of up to 100,300 pounds of walleye this year, an increase of 20,000 pounds from last year.

The walleye fishing season opens on May 13. Fishing will be allowed 24 hours a day for opening weekend, but night fishing for all species will be banned starting May 15.