Dave Jacobson

A Garrison angler, Dave Jacobson, catches a nice walleye last summer on Mille Lacs Lake.

On March 23, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources made the highly anticipated announcement of the new regulations for the 2021 open water season on Mille Lacs Lake. The regulations are a step in the right direction and considerably more liberal than last year. The 2020 regulations for walleye were catch and release all season with a shutdown of walleye fishing for the month of July. The bright spot last year was that the fall season was open to walleye fishing for the first time in 5 years. Previously the season had been shut down and there was a ban on walleye fishing beginning the day after Labor Day.

The regulations for the 2021 open water season are as follows: Harvest of one walleye between 21”-23” or one over 28” from opener, May 15 to the end of May. Then it will be catch and release from June 1 to the end of June. Then there will be a shutdown of walleye fishing from July 1 through July 15, and catch and release will resume July 16 through Sept. 15. Starting Sept. 16, the one fish harvest is scheduled to resume (with the same size restrictions) through Nov. 30 as long as anglers do not exceed the 87,800 pound allocation prior to Sept. 16. As far as the night fishing ban, it will be the same as past seasons and will be from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. beginning at 10 p.m. Monday May 17. But the other bright spot in the new regulations is starting Sept. 16; the night fishing ban for walleyes will change from a quit time of 10 p.m. to  midnight giving fall anglers another two hours of night fishing until Nov. 30. The 6 a.m. start time will remain the same.

Even though there are many regulation changes throughout the season, they are more liberal than the previous years and will hopefully attract more people to the area. Here’s some local reactions to the new regulations from a few businesses and fishing guides:

Bill Eno of Twin Pines Resort on the West side of the lake said: “The best thing we can say about this year’s regulations is we’ve seen worse. When Mother Nature is managed politically nobody wins.”

Terry Thurmer of Terry’s Boat Harbor also on the west side said, “I think the new regulations are a joke. You look back at the Leech Lake and Red Lake restoration after five years they were able to keep fish and the economic impact for the area was huge. Mille Lacs restoration after five years is a complete failure. I compare Mille Lacs to COVID-19 where many businesses were forced to shut down and the number of customers showed a dramatic reduction, but now economic restoration is happening. Mille Lacs businesses on the other hand have suffered COVID like shut downs and huge reductions in customers for over five years because of smothering walleye restrictions, and unlike COVID there is no economic restoration in sight. The Blue ribbon panel told the DNR to spread harvest over small, medium and large walleyes, yet they absolutely refuse to do so. The Mille Lacs management has been a total economic failure and they should all be fired and replaced with people who can get the job done.”

Kevin McQuoid of Mac’s Twin Bay Resort on the east side said, “I think we can all agree we want a healthy fishery, and if that has to be by regulation, then we have to accept that. The positives are that now we have a harvest not only in the winter but also in the spring this year and hopefully again in the fall. I do wish that the regulations would be a little more consistent without so many changes seasonally and from season to season.”

Matt Treno of Matt’s Fishing on the south side said, “We are killing our tourism with complicated and confusing walleye regulations. I hear it year after year from my customers that the regulations here, compared to other fishing vacation areas in Minnesota, make Mille Lacs Lake less attractive. This year with five regulation changes for walleyes in a single season, will certainly negatively affect our local tourism that the area desperately needs. Until we can keep a consistent and open season, I feel any harvest at any time of year is only hurting our local economy. I want to keep fish just as much as the next guy, but our local economy is way more important than what I’m having for dinner tonight.”

Brian Linne from Red Door Resort on the north side said, “At the Red Door, we think about this year’s summer walleye regulations as being a net positive for the lake as well as area resorts and businesses. The ability to keep a slot walleye early season and again in the fall will likely provide a boost to our own reservations this summer and could put Mille Lacs back on the radar of additional anglers.”

All and all, it sounds like the locals are trying to stay positive as to the lakes ever-changing regulations and doing their best to adapt to them. With the multiple year classes currently present in the lake, if the fishing this year is even close to the success of last year, the 2021 open water season on Mille Lacs should be fantastic!

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