Photo by Dennis Anderson (Star Tribune)
After much debate and anticipation, the Minnesota DNR has finally announced the regulations for Mille Lacs Lake in 2016. There were many rule changes and modifications released, with the most notable being catch-and-release only for walleye this season. Here’s the full breakdown:
From May 14th to December 1st, anglers targeting walleye on Mille Lacs Lake must use artificial baits and immediately release any walleye they catch. This is a large step from last year when walleye anglers could use live bait and bring one of their fish (between 19-21 inches or over 28 inches) home for supper. Last year’s policy pushed the state over it’s 28,600 pound walleye limit by August.
Anglers targeting northern pike may keep up to five fish with just one over 40 inches long. All fish 30-40 inches must be released immediately. The earn-a-trophy provision that required anglers to harvest two smaller pike before one larger one has been eliminated for the 2016 open water season.
Lately, there has been concerns regarding the smallmouth bass population on the big lake. Many anglers have joined and expressed their support for the recently formed Mille Lacs Smallmouth Alliance, a group dedicated to protecting one of the top smallmouth bass fisheries in the world. Bass anglers have a lot at stake, as Mille Lacs was recently named the #10 bass fishing lake in the country by Bassmaster.com.
To help protect this resource, the Minnesota DNR tightened the regulations for bass harvest on the lake. Anglers may now keep up to four fish with only one being longer than 21 inches. All fish between 17-21 inches must be released immediately. Last year’s regulations allowed anglers to keep six bass with the protected slot being 18-21 inches.
The early harvest offered on Mille Lacs also was eliminated, requiring that – like the rest of the state – all bass caught during the first two weeks of the season be immediately released. Mille Lacs’ exemption to the statewide fall closure of the smallmouth bass season remains, meaning that anglers may keep smallmouth bass they catch on Mille Lacs through Feb. 28, 2017.
Night fishing closure begins Monday, May 16, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and continues through Dec. 1. Muskellunge anglers may fish at night but all baits, live or artificial, in possession must be at least 8 inches long.
Anglers targeting walleyes are only permitted to use artificial baits. Fishermen who are chasing northern pike and muskellunge may possess and use sucker minnows longer than 8 inches but all other anglers must not possess any other bait that is live, dead, frozen or processed.
Launch operators have the ability to pursue an exemption to the artificial-only rule by agreeing to participate in data collection studies:
“Anglers fish close together on launches, making it extremely difficult to safely cast artificial lures rather than dropping baited lines into the water,” Pereira said. “Since the DNR needs more data to refine its hooking mortality standards, asking launches to provide this data will allow a traditional, popular and enjoyable method of fishing on Mille Lacs to continue.”
From the DNR: “This year’s safe walleye harvest level established by the DNR and Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission remains at 40,000 pounds, with 28,600 allocated to state anglers and 11,400 for tribal fishing. Allowing fishing beyond those limits puts the walleye population at risk and a federal court decision requires that walleye fishing be suspended.”
You can read the entire DNR release here: 2016 Mille Lacs Regulations.