ST. PAUL — Sport anglers who fish on Mille Lacs Lake will be allowed to keep only two walleyes this season and only if they fall within a narrow size range, fisheries officials announced Tuesday as they seek to stem a crash in the walleye population in one of Minnesota's premier fishing lakes.
But the Department of Natural Resources also liberalized regulations for taking northern pike and smallmouth bass from the big lake, and decided against a ban on nighttime fishing that was unpopular with resort and other stakeholders.
"We have a serious problem on Mille Lacs," DNR fisheries chief Dirk Peterson told reporters on a conference call. "We've got low walleye populations out there. But the other side of the coin is you can still expect good fishing opportunities for walleye this summer and the regulations will help ensure that."
The new regulations are aimed at protecting the lake's smaller walleyes, he said, which are critical to a recovery. While natural reproduction has been good and the lake still contains large numbers of larger walleyes, he said too many newly hatched walleyes aren't growing up to become big fish.
"We hope to see some turning of the corner on the walleye situation in the next two to three years," Peterson said.
Under the new regulations, Mille Lacs sport anglers will be able to keep walleyes only between 18 and 20 inches long, or longer than 28 inches. All others must be released immediately. The daily bag and possession limit is two, with only one longer than 28 inches. Last season all walleye from 17 to 28 inches had to be released, and the limit was four, a total that proved difficult for anglers to reach because the lake held few walleyes smaller than 17 inches.
The DNR is hoping the looser regulations for northern pike and smallmouth bass on Mille Lacs give anglers other opportunities. Fewer of those fish would also mean young walleyes would have less competition for food and fewer predators.