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Mille Lacs winter anglers allowed 1 walleye - Fall surveys support conservative harvest decision

Mille Lacs Lake walleye fishing will open on Friday, Dec. 1, with no bait restrictions and a limit of one walleye 20-22 inches or one longer than 28 inches. Brainerd Dispatch file photo

Mille Lacs Lake walleye fishing will open on Friday, Dec. 1, with no bait restrictions and a limit of one walleye 20-22 inches or one longer than 28 inches.

“We’re glad results of fall population survey show Mille Lacs anglers will be able to keep some walleye during the winter walleye season,” said Don Pereira, fisheries section chief for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “We know this is important to resorts and businesses because the ice fishing season contributes a lot to the local economy.”

The DNR selected the size regulations to protect Mille Lacs’ walleye spawning population, which is largely comprised of walleyes hatched in 2013 (also known as a year class). Those fish currently range from 15 to 19 inches in length and represented about 40 percent of the walleyes sampled during this fall’s population survey.

Since the 2013 year class now is nearly fully mature, the DNR determined anglers could keep older and larger fish, something some anglers have been suggesting and requesting. In recent years, conservative regulations on Mille Lacs have protected the younger spawners to-be so they can replace the older spawners, which is necessary to sustain the population.

The DNR and members of the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee did discuss setting the large fish limit at 26 inches. But feedback suggested that keeping those fish in the lake was preferred because the possibility of catching walleye 26 to 28 inches makes Mille Lacs an attractive destination. There also was concern that a 26-inch limit could result in a higher harvest level that would count against the 2018 allocation.

Insights from annual fall surveys

Mille Lacs fall walleye population survey, known as an “assessment,” showed that the 2013 year class continues to dominate the population. The catch of walleye hatched in 2014, 2015 and 2016 was below average. Fish hatched this spring were caught in good numbers but it’s uncertain if those numbers will remain as the 2017 year class progresses through its first, second and third years.

Complete winter regulation information for Mille Lacs Lake is available on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/millelacslake.

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