The most recent Mille Lacs Lake walleye harvest estimate indicates that anglers have surpassed the state’s 2016 walleye quota. The state, however, will not close the catch-and-release walleye season at this time, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced today.
According to DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira, analysis of summer creel survey data has shown that the catch-and-release-only regulations on Mille Lacs are successfully conserving the lake’s future spawning population of walleye.
“Based on the data we’ve seen so far this year, keeping the season open will have minimal additional impact on the walleye population,” Pereira said. “The primary goal of the catch-and-release restriction is protecting young walleye, especially the robust 2013 year class. Current data show that only 1 percent of the 2013 fish have been impacted by hooking mortality, which is remarkably low.”
Conserving the 2013 year class of juvenile walleye until the fish reach spawning age is a critical component of recovering the Mille Lacs walleye population.
At the end of June, state-licensed angler harvest was estimated at only 6,950 pounds. But due to increased angler activity, warm water temperatures and high catch rates, the estimated harvest increased rapidly in July, putting the most recent creel estimate at 37,922 pounds.
Despite the catch-and-release season, hooking mortality – an estimate of the number of fish that die after being released – is measured to estimate total harvest.
This year’s walleye harvest allocation was established in January at 40,000 pounds – 28,600 for state-licensed anglers and 11,400 for tribal fishing.
In 2016, the bands with Mille Lacs Lake treaty fishing rights modified their harvest methods to help conserve young walleye, and to date have not taken their entire allocation. The state also adjusted walleye regulations by implementing the catch-and-release restriction for the open-water season.
The DNR had not previously managed Mille Lacs walleye with a season-long catch-and-release regulation. Fisheries researchers have been analyzing the 2016 creel data to better understand the impact of conservative fishing regulations on the lake’s walleye population.
“Since the impact of catch-and-release fishing on future spawners has been minimal, we are able to take socio-economic factors into consideration as well when making resource management decisions,” Pereira said. “Keeping the season open prevents significant economic loss in the Mille Lacs community. The DNR remains committed to managing the lake as a world-class fishery for the benefit of all users.”
DNR fisheries biologists will continue to monitor creel survey results and water temperatures on Mille Lacs through the remainder of the open-water season to ensure conservation of the lake’s future spawning population of walleye.
In addition to analysis of angler creel surveys, the DNR continues to invest in research to enhance understanding and management of the lake’s fishery. Ongoing studies on Mille Lacs include advanced research on hooking mortality and the addition of temperature gauges at a wider range of locations and deeper depths than have been monitored in the past. The DNR will also facilitate new technical work and research focused on better understanding fundamental changes to the ecology and food web of Mille Lacs, including the potential effects of invasive species.
Long thought of primarily as a walleye lake, Mille Lacs has also become a premier location for northern pike, muskie and small mouth bass fishing. In September, the lake will host the Bassmaster Elite Series “Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship” – a world-class event that will bring the nation’s best bass anglers to Mille Lacs.