No July closure or live bait ban planned; harvest adjustments possible if conditions warrant
State-licensed anglers will have the opportunity to harvest a walleye 21-23 inches in length or greater than 28 inches throughout the 2023 open water season on Mille Lacs Lake. A lower walleye harvest this winter and an improving walleye population are combining to allow this year’s more liberal regulations.
“We are pleased to see improvements in both the growth of adult walleye and survival of young walleye in Mille Lacs,” said Brad Parsons, fisheries section manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “Those factors create the opportunity for anglers to have a continuous harvest season in 2023.”
Walleye regulations will apply from the walleye opener on Saturday, May 13, until the end of the open-water season on Thursday, Nov. 30. Unlike recent years, there is no planned closure to walleye fishing or ban on using live bait during the first two weeks in July.
On opening weekend, fishing will be allowed 24 hours a day. Beginning Monday, May 15, the night fishing closure takes effect, and fishing hours on Mille Lacs Lake will be
6 a.m. to 10 p.m. for all species. From Saturday, June 3, through Thursday, Nov. 30, muskellunge and northern pike anglers using artificial lures or sucker minnows longer than 8 inches are exempt from the night fishing closure. Starting Friday, Sept. 1, the night fishing closure is relaxed, with angling hours being 6 a.m. to midnight.
“As always, we will monitor the factors that determine the state’s walleye take throughout the open water season,” Parsons said. “If conditions warrant, we will adjust regulations, either to allow additional opportunity if harvest is especially low like it was in 2022 or tighten regulations if harvest exceeds our projections.”
The DNR and the eight Ojibwe bands that have treaty fishing rights under the 1837 treaty agreed Mille Lacs could sustain a state harvest of up to 100,300 pounds of walleye this year, an increase of 20,000 pounds from 2022. Adult walleye grew well in 2022, and year classes of younger walleye in the lake have the potential to contribute to the fishery in the future. Harvest levels are set annually, and may be lower or higher in subsequent years.
“The lake has been in a state of change since the 1990s. As the water started to clear, we began seeing warmer water temperatures. Change continues with the introduction of invasive species such as zebra mussel and spiny water flea,” Parsons said. “We will continue to monitor the lake to see how ongoing changes will influence the fishery.”
This year’s winter walleye harvest was 4,300 pounds. Lower catch rates for anglers due to abundant forage in the lake combined with poor ice conditions in the early season were responsible for this winter’s lower harvest. That drop in walleye take gave the DNR more flexibility to implement open water harvest opportunities this coming season.
The northern pike population in Mille Lacs is healthy, and harvest of fish under 30 inches is encouraged for anglers looking for another option to bring home a meal of fish. Mille Lacs is also home to a smallmouth bass population that opens to catch and release angling on May 13, with harvest of fish less than 17 inches allowed starting on Saturday, May 27.
“Our goal with regulations for all species is to offer fishing opportunities while also keeping in mind the long-term sustainability of the lake,” Parsons said.
More information about fishing regulations on Mille Lacs Lake, ongoing DNR management and research, citizen engagement and Mille Lacs area recreation opportunities is available on the DNR website (mndnr.gov/millelacslake).