Lower than expected catch rates, summer harvest allows regulation adjustment
Mille Lacs Lake walleye anglers will see a relaxed harvest slot for walleye fishing beginning Thursday, Sept. 1.
As announced in March of this year, the one-fish walleye limit will resume on Mille Lacs on Sept. 1. In an expansion of the harvest slot, anglers will be able to harvest one walleye 20-23 inches or one longer than 26 inches, with fishing allowed from 6 a.m. to midnight. The original walleye harvest slot for fall fishing on Mille Lacs this year was one fish 21-23 inches or one longer than 28 inches.
“Given the current size structure of Mille Lacs’ walleye population, this regulation change will meaningfully increase the amount of walleye available for anglers to harvest,” said Brad Parsons, fisheries section manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Catch rates may not improve this season, but there will be a better chance to keep a fish.”
The recent lower catch rate of walleye in Mille Lacs Lake is less a reflection of the number of walleye in the lake than it is how hungry those fish are. The number of walleye longer than 14 inches has been similar each year from 2020 to 2022. But an abundance of yellow perch from a strong 2020 year class has created more natural food for walleye, which consequently are not as willing to bite on anglers’ baits.
Each year, the state and the eight Ojibwe bands that have treaty fishing rights on Lake Mille Lacs establish a safe harvest level for walleye in Mille Lacs Lake. That total is split between the state and bands.
The DNR sets regulations to keep the harvest within the state’s share based on projections using recent data. If actual conditions differ substantially from the projections, the number of walleye taken can be lower or higher than expected.
“We’re seeing that this year,” Parsons said. “With actual state angler catch rates and harvest significantly lower than expected, we’re adjusting the regulation to provide more opportunity without significant risk to the long-term sustainability of Mille Lacs’ walleye population.”
Regulations for all other species remain unchanged. Walleye regulations for the winter season, which begins Thursday, Dec. 1, will be announced in November.