Mille Lacs faces 3rd catch-and-release-only walleye season

Published 4:58 pm Monday, March 19, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Anglers and resort owners on Mille Lacs Lake will be facing a third consecutive catch-and-release-only season for walleye, the Department of Natural Resources announced Monday.

Maintaining the restriction for the open-water season that opens May 12 will let fisheries managers keep one of the state’s most popular destination lakes open to walleye fishing all year, instead of closing it entirely as they did for a month last summer, the DNR said. As in past years, night fishing for walleyes there will be prohibited after the opening weekend.

The Mille Lacs walleye population has undergone a long-term decline over the past two decades that has coincided with significant changes in the lake’s ecosystem, including clearer water, more invasive species such as zebra mussels, and changes in the food web including declines in forage species such as tullibees. Another major problem has been the failure of enough walleyes to survive until their second year

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But DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira said in the announcement that the lake’s walleye spawning stock has increased significantly, and that the lake can support more walleye fishing in 2018 as long as a catch-and-release rule is in place.

The DNR allowed ice anglers on Mille Lacs to keep one walleye apiece this winter as long as it was between 20 and 22 inches or longer than 28 inches.

Another destination Minnesota walleye lake has also begun to struggle. The DNR will hold an open house in Grand Rapids on tonight about Lake Winnibigoshish. The DNR said it’s investigating whether the downturn is a normal part of walleye biology on Big Winnie, or if something has changed.

Concerns about walleye and panfish numbers are behind a bill introduced last week by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, and Rep. Bud Nornes, a Fergus Falls Republican, to scuttle the DNR’s long-range plans for growing the state’s muskellunge population. Ingebrigtsen said he expected the bill would get a hearing this session.