Winter anglers on Mille Lacs Lake will be able to keep a single walleye per day starting Dec. 1, but the walleye must be between 21 and 23 inches long or over 28 inches.
It’s the same regulation as the last two winter seasons. Summer anglers on the big lake could keep no fish and in fact all walleye fishing was banned in July.
“It’s good news that anglers will be able to harvest walleye again this winter,” Sarah Strommen, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said in a statement. “Conservative management continues to sustain good fishing on Mille Lacs.”
Mille Lacs was a popular ice fishing destination during the winter of 2019-20, in part due to poor ice conditions on other large Minnesota lakes. Anglers put in a record of more than 3 million fishing hours on the lake last winter. In each of the previous three winters, anglers spent about 2 million hours fishing on Mille Lacs.
Brad Parsons, DNR fisheries section manager, said biologists are “confident that the walleye population is abundant enough to support some harvest.”
The DNR’s 2020 assessment found that the walleye population has remained relatively stable over the past four years, having rebounded from population lows seen from 2012 to 2016.
Harvest from the winter of 2020-21 will be counted toward the state’s annual share of walleye from Mille Lacs under the 1837 treaty. State anglers share harvest with eight Ojibwe tribes that have fishing rights under the treaty.
The state’s allowable harvest for the coming year will be set in early 2021 through discussions between the state and the tribes. The DNR will set open water fishing regulations in March 2021 following discussions with the tribes and the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee and after the conclusion of winter fishing.
While encouraged by the rebound in walleye abundance, the DNR is taking a cautious approach to managing Mille Lacs’ walleye fishery. Survival of walleye to age 3 and older has been inconsistent in recent years.
The 2013 year class — that is, fish born in 2013 — continues to be the most abundant class of fish. These fish are mainly 17-21 inches long, with faster growing individuals exceeding 21 inches. Year classes from 2009 to 2012 were weak, and had low numbers grow to adults, while those produced since 2013 have had more fish survive to adulthood.
The 2014 year class is below average compared with those from the last 15 years. The 2015 and 2016 year classes appear close to average, and the 2017 year class is well above average. Since 2008, only the 2013 and 2017 year classes have been above average.
Walleye condition, often referred to as plumpness, remained lower than recent averages. The relatively thin condition of fish suggests that forage was limited during parts of this year. That lack of food contributed to the high catch rates in Mille Lacs early this summer. But that rate dropped in August and September, suggesting that the availability of forage improved later in the summer as fish hatched in 2020 grew and became a part of walleye diets.
Information about Mille Lacs Lake, including complete fishing regulations, is available on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/millelacslake.