News release: DNR sets open water fishing regulations for Mille Lacs

March 13, 2024

Mille Lacs Lake walleye fishing will be catch-and-release during the spring and early summer of 2024, with the opportunity to harvest a walleye starting on Friday, August 16. During the open water harvest opportunity beginning on August 16, anglers will be able to keep one walleye that is 21-23 inches in length or that is greater than 28 inches. DNR designed the regulation in order to keep the state’s walleye take within limits agreed upon with tribal nations.

“Despite some rather poor ice conditions, anglers caught a lot of walleye this past fall and winter because those fish weren’t finding enough to eat,” said Brad Parsons, DNR Fisheries Section Manager. “We need to account for the active bite and for the likelihood of higher water temperatures this summer in setting the open water season regulations. Even with catch-and-release regulations, many fish die after being released when water temperatures get too warm.”

“Mille Lacs is a great place to fish and recreate, and anglers will enjoy quality opportunities for walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike and muskellunge,” said Parsons. “Our management approach is aligned with the Mille Lacs management plan and reflects our commitment to navigating the lake's unique dynamics and preserving its angling tradition.”

While the DNR’s 2023 Mille Lacs Lake assessment found slightly lower walleye numbers in 2022, overall the population remains healthy due to the continued abundance of walleye in the 2013 and 2017 year-classes. Assessment results also indicate good numbers of walleye in the 2021 and 2022 year classes that should contribute to the walleye population in the future.

Those same population estimates, netting surveys and population models also indicate there are fewer yellow perch and tullibee, the primary food sources for Mille Lacs Lake walleye. With less natural forage, walleye searching for a meal are more likely to bite on anglers’ baits.

“It seems logical that high catch rates mean there are more walleye in the lake,” Parsons said. “However, the data we’ve collected suggest the hot bite is because walleye aren’t finding as many perch and tullibee to eat. Our management decisions take those data into account.”

Mille Lacs Lake continues to experience changes. Increasing water clarity and the introduction of invasive species such as zebra mussels and spiny water fleas mean there is less microscopic aquatic food, resulting in decreased production of forage species and fewer walleye maturing past their first year. These factors, plus variables like angler catch rates and summer water temperatures, which determine hooking mortality, are challenging to predict. Consequently, projecting the exact impact of selected fishing regulations is difficult. Biologists monitor how many fish are taken throughout the season to allow for adjustments to regulations if necessary.

State-licensed anglers share the harvest on Mille Lacs with Ojibwe tribes that retain fishing rights by treaty. To conserve the fishery, an annual safe harvest level is set through discussion and agreement between the state and the tribes, with each party setting regulations to stay within their share of the harvest. This year’s agreement took the lake’s overall walleye population decline into account and lowered the walleye safe harvest level by 10% from 2023, setting it at 91,500 lbs. for state-licensed anglers and 65,500 lbs. for tribal fishing.

Anglers are reminded to protect Mille Lacs Lake and all Minnesota waters from aquatic invasive species by cleaning and draining watercraft and equipment and disposing of unwanted bait in the trash. A decontamination station is available 24/7 at the Shaw-Bosh-Kung Bay public access on the west side of Mille Lacs Lake about 8 miles south of Garrison.

Complete Mille Lacs Lake fishing regulations and regularly updated surveys that show ongoing state-licensed angler catches of walleye, northern pike and yellow perch are available on the DNR website.

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