After eight Chippewa bands expressed strong concerns, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will close the Mille Lacs Lake catch-and-release walleye season on Tuesday, Sept. 6.
Warm water temperatures and high catch rates on Mille Lacs during July and August led to higher-than-expected hooking mortality rates — an estimate of the number of fish that die after being caught and returned to the water. The state’s current estimated walleye harvest is 45,276 pounds, exceeding the original state quota by 16,676 pounds.
The state decided earlier this month to keep walleye fishing open out of concern for the impact of an early closure on the area economy. The catch-and-release-only regulations on Mille Lacs are successfully conserving the lake’s future spawning population of walleye.
Given the strong concerns of band leaders, the state will close the lake’s walleye season after the Labor Day holiday weekend.
The 2016 allocation established by the bands and the DNR in January was 40,000 pounds – 28,600 for state-licensed anglers and 11,400 for tribal fishing. Eight Chippewa bands hold treaty fishing rights to Mille Lacs Lake.
“Although the state’s estimated overage does not pose a conservation risk to the lake’s walleye population, we recognize the impact that continued fishing could have on our relationship with the bands,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.
As of 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 6, the lake’s catch-and-release-only walleye season will close. Fishing for other species remains open. The closure will remain in effect through Wednesday, Nov. 30.
In addition to its reputation for world-class walleye fishing, Mille Lacs has also become a premier location for northern pike, muskie and small mouth bass fishing, and in September will host the Bassmaster Elite Series angler of the year championship.
“We certainly encourage anglers to continue visiting the Mille Lacs area this season to take advantage of the phenomenal fishing for other trophy species,” Landwehr said. “Last fall, a world-record muskie was caught and released on Mille Lacs by a fly-fisherman, and anglers are reporting excellent catch rates again this year.”
As in past years, the DNR will conduct fall walleye assessments to determine the health of the walleye population. Data from those surveys will help determine future seasons.
The DNR continues to invest in research to enhance its understanding and management of the lake’s fishery, including ongoing advanced research on hooking mortality, the addition of water temperature gauges at more locations and deeper depths, and additional technical work examining the changing ecology and food web of Mille Lacs, including the potential effects of invasive species.