The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced the new regulations for the 2020 open water season on St. Patrick’s Day. This year’s walleye season will again be catch and release with a closure the entire month of July, including no live bait use during that month. But muskie and northern pike anglers can use sucker minnows that are longer than 8 inches.
According to the DNR, there was a 30-year-high ice fishing harvest this past season which, according to their estimates, ate up 30,000 pounds of the 87,500 pounds that state anglers were allocated. And this, partially, is the reason for the restrictive walleye rules for the open water season on Mille Lacs.
This leaves only 57,800 pounds available for state anglers during the open water season. That number is dictated by the safe harvest level established for 2020 by the State and the eight Chippewa bands who have treaty fishing rights on Mille Lacs.
DNR officials say poor ice conditions and slush on other popular big lakes focused more attention on Mille Lacs. Mille Lacs didn’t receive as much snow, so slush was less of a problem. The other lakes continued to receive significant snowfalls that insulated the slush for the entire season making for limited travel.
Brad Parsons, fisheries section chief for the DNR, said, “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, and 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.”
According to the DNR, walleye are more vulnerable in July because of warmer water temperatures, and with that, the fish are more susceptible to hooking mortality after being caught and released. The hooking mortality rate is factored into the State’s allocation of the allowable walleye harvest, and its effectiveness in accurately determining the number of fish that die after being caught and released is questioned by some.
“By implementing fishing restrictions when walleye are most vulnerable and reducing angler take, anglers could potentially gain two months or more of late-summer and fall fishing,” the DNR stated in a press release. It has been three years since the lake was open to fall fishing.
The new walleye regulations are in place from the opener on Saturday, May 9 and continue through Monday, Nov. 30. After that, new regulations will be announced for the 2020-’21 ice fishing season.
As for the night fishing ban, it will remain the same as years past and will be effective 10 p.m. on Monday, May 11, through 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 30. On Monday, May 11, through Friday, June 5, there will be no fishing for any species from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. And on Saturday, June 6, through Nov. 30, there will be no fishing from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., except for the following species and methods:
- Muskellunge and northern pike may be targeted with artificial lures longer than 8 inches or sucker minnows longer than 8 inches. While fishing during the night closure, you may not possess or target any species other than muskellunge or northern pike.
- While bowfishing for rough fish, you may not possess angling equipment and only rough fish may be in possession.
- Other new regulations to maintain and improve fishing on Mille Lacs for bass and northern pike include a three fish limit for largemouth and smallmouth bass with immediate release of all smallmouth and largemouth bass greater than 17 inches. The harvest season for bass begins Saturday, May 23. Smallmouth harvest ends Sunday, Sept. 13. Largemouth harvest ends Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021.
- As for northern pike, there is also a three fish limit, and all northern pike greater than 30 inches must be immediately released. That season runs from Saturday, May 9, through Wednesday, March 31, 2021.