Walleye fishing on Mille Lacs Lake will close Friday, Sept. 6, so state anglers do not exceed a safe walleye harvest level, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reported.
“We’re glad anglers had the opportunity to harvest walleye in May and fish for walleye through much of the open water season,” said Brad Parsons, fisheries chief for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, in a news release. “Because angling pressure and walleye catch rates were high, the coming closure is necessary to stay within established limits.”
High angling pressure and catch rates in July and August when water temperatures were at their warmest increased hooking mortality, resulting in a larger-than-expected walleye kill. Hooking mortality, which is more likely as water temperatures warm, occurs when a fish is caught and returned to the water but dies anyway.
The state of Minnesota and Ojibwe tribal authorities with fishing rights on Mille Lacs agreed on a 2019 safe harvest level of 87,800 pounds for state anglers and 62,200 pounds for tribal fishing.
“Mille Lacs Lake walleye regulations allowed some harvest this year but it’s still important to proceed with caution to ensure continued recovery of the lake’s walleye,” Parsons said. “The restrictive regulations we enacted in previous years protected young walleye, allowing the population to increase to a number not observed since before 2007. Continuing to manage the Mille Lacs walleye fishery for recovery will allow us to provide good angling opportunities in the future.”
State Reps. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, and Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, both issued statements in response to the Minnesota DNR’s decision.
“The fishing has been outstanding on Mille Lacs this year as the lake’s walleye population continues to rebound,” Lueck said. “In fact, the fish have been biting so well, this move was made as a precautionary measure to ensure we do not exceed the cap on the safe harvest level that was assigned for this fishing year, which ends Dec. 1. It’s important that we continue to look forward, this measure temporarily pauses targeting the walleye, but lays the groundwork for an even better walleye fishing season beginning with ice-on in December of this year and next year’s open water season. There remains other excellent fish in the ‘big lake’ to enjoy, as well as a wide range of other outstanding outdoor recreational activities.”
Said Heintzeman, “I am disappointed by today’s news that this year’s walleye season on Mille Lacs will once again be cut short. I believe the process leading to this decision requires continued scrutiny but I encourage folks to take advantage of the outstanding bass and other fishing opportunities on the lake for the remainder of the season.”
Starting Sept. 6 at 12:01 a.m., anglers will not be able to target walleye when fishing on Mille Lacs Lake. Anglers may fish for other species and use live bait.
Walleye regulations for the winter of 2019-20 on Mille Lacs Lake will be announced in November after data from fall walleye assessments are available. Winter regulations become effective Dec. 1.
The DNR states the Mille Lacs walleye population has undergone many changes over the past two decades coinciding 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 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 eight bands of Chippewa 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.
Find more information on Mille Lacs Lake at mndnr.gov/millelacslake.