Mille Lacs walleye season: No keepers, 21-day fishing ban

Walleye fishing will be catch-and-release only once again this summer on Mille Lacs Lake, meaning no keepers for the second straight year. The DNR announced this season’s walleye regulations on Tuesday as part of the ongoing effort to rebuild the walleye population on Mille Lacs.

In addition to the catch-and-release regulation, the lake will also have a complete 21-day walleye fishing ban from Friday, July 7 to July 27. During that 21-day period, anglers can fish for all other species in Mille Lacs Lake including bass, muskies and northern, but only with artificial bait and lures. The goal of the 21-day walleye closure is to keep the fishing season open through Labor Day weekend.

An exception to the artificial bait rule exists for anglers targeting northern pike and muskie only, and who don’t possess walleye gear. Those anglers may possess and use live sucker minnows longer than 8 inches when fishing.

The decision to have a 21-day closure during the walleye season was made after ice anglers caught more walleye and larger walleye than expected this winter. According to Minnesota DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira, ice fishing this winter accounted for about one-third of the total amount of walleye that can be taken from Mille Lacs in 2017.

The July closure coincides with the hottest part of the summer forecast – a period when released fish are vulnerable to stress. Warmer water and an increase in anglers in July means that more fish die -- even those that are caught and released (hooking mortality). During the last two weeks of July 2016 alone, hooking mortality accounted for more than half of the state’s walleye harvest allocation for the entire open water season.

The state's 2017 walleye allocation is 44,800 pounds, but the 2017 walleye season will remain open through 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 5, provided the state harvest doesn't exceed a conservation cap of 55,800.

In June 2016, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a supplemental budget that included $3.6 million for local grants and loans in Mille Lacs County and $300,000 for the Mille Lacs Tourism Council to bolster area tourism marketing efforts amid the walleye restrictions.

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