St. Paul, MN (KROC AM News) - The walleye season this year at one of Minnesota’s most popular lakes will be catch and release only.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources made the announcement Monday, adding that only artificial bait will be permitted for walleye anglers at Mille Lacs Lake.

The new rule is designed to protect the fish needed to rebuild Mille Lacs Lake’s walleye population. The Mille Lacs walleye season was shut down in August last year when the state quota was reached. The DNR says this year’s harvest level remains at 40,000 pounds, with 28,600 allocated to state anglers and 11,400 to tribal anglers. The agency says a higher limit would put the walleye population at risk.

“A catch-and-release walleye season allows us to protect future spawners yet acknowledges the desire that fishing remain open,” said Don Pereira, fisheries chief for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Not allowing harvest is a difficult decision but it provides our best option.”

According to the DNR, walleye anglers must use artificial bait and immediately release all that are caught during the established season ( May 14 - Dec 1).

“The possibility of closing Mille Lacs to walleye fishing is greater this year than it was last,” Pereira said. “Even with our catch-and-release approach, the risk remains considerable.”

Concern stems from the additional pressure that hooking mortality – an estimate of the number of fish that die after being caught and returned to the water – has on walleye harvest. Hooking mortality rates also increase as water temperatures warm. Both factors are at play in Mille Lacs this year.

The DNR expects more small- and intermediate-sized fish to be caught, including fish hatched in 2013 that biologists are counting on to rebuild Mille Lacs’ walleye population. These immature fish, which are approaching a more catchable but comparatively small size of 14 inches and longer, need to be protected so they can spawn. Ice is opening on lakes earlier this year, increasing the likelihood that water temperatures will warm faster and sooner.

The DNR also announced these other changes for Mille Lacs anglers:

  •     Walleye: Night closure beginning Monday, May 16, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and continuing through Dec. 1. Muskellunge anglers may fish at night but all baits, live or artificial, in possession must be at least 8 inches long.
  •     Northern pike: Five fish with only one longer than 40 inches. All northern 30-40 inches long must be immediately released.
  •    Bass: Four fish with only one longer than 21 inches. All fish 17-21 inches long must be immediately released.

More information about Mille Lacs is available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake.  
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