Walleye angling on Mille Lacs Lake will be catch-and-release only for this year’s open-water season, with the exception of July, when walleye fishing will be closed entirely.

That was the report Tuesday, March 17, from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which said a robust ice fishing harvest and a high death rate for released walleyes last year is leading to a more conservative season this year.

In 2019, anglers could at least keep a walleye from opening day through Memorial Day weekend. But this year, no walleye can be legally kept and it will be technically illegal to even fish for walleyes in July.

In addition, all live bait use on the lake will be banned in July, no matter the intended species, in an effort to keep more walleye alive in the lake. The exception is sucker minnows 8 inches and longer used for northern pike and musky fishing.

Walleye are particularly vulnerable in July because, as water temperature increases, so too does "hooking mortality" — the tendency for fish to die after being caught, handled and released.

Mille Lacs walleye have been hard hit in recent years due to several environmental factors, such as zebra mussels and other invasive species, and both tribal and DNR fisheries experts are using conservative harvest limits to bolster walleye numbers.

Poor ice conditions on other lakes this winter focused added attention on Mille Lacs, resulting in the highest fishing pressure there in 30 years, with almost 30,000 pounds of walleye harvested, the DNR said. This leaves only 57,800 pounds available for the state’s open-water season under the safe harvest level established for 2020 by the state and the eight Chippewa bands that have treaty fishing rights.

“We know any summer walleye closure is disappointing, but anglers have told us they prefer a planned temporary closure in July to an unplanned one later in the season,” said Brad Parsons, fisheries section manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “The addition of the live bait ban allows for the shortest closure to ensure we remain within the set allocation and support the long-term interest of the walleye fishery.”

Walleye season opens May 9.

Other new Mille Lacs regulations to maintain and improve fishing for bass and northern pike include:

  • Immediate release of all smallmouth and largemouth bass greater than 17 inches during the bass harvest season that begins May 23.

  • Limit of three largemouth and smallmouth bass.

  • Release all northern pike greater than 30 inches.

  • Limit of three northern pike from May 9, 2020, through March 31, 2021.