DNR Contemplating 2021 Open Water Fishing Restrictions
During a Mille Lacs Lake Fishing Advisory Committee (MLFAC) meeting on Wednesday, February 24th, representatives from the the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources discussed the 2021 Harvestable Surplus, State Fishery Goals and multiple open water regulation scenarios related to walleye fishing on the big pond. The DNR also provided an update on the Mille Lacs lake management plan.
The 2021 Harvestable Surplus for walleye is identical to that for 2020 and set at 150,000 pounds. The 150,000 pound harvestable surplus is split into two portions: 87,800 is available for the state (i.e., general public anglers) and 62,200 is available for the Native American bands that are signatories to the 1837 Treaty. The DNR indicated that Mille Lacs would not need to implement an unplanned closure as long as the state’s total take for the year remains below 100,000 pounds. However, since any walleye weight over 87,800 pounds would be required to be paid back in future years, the DNR is attempting to set summer regulations as to not exceed the 87,800 harvestable surplus.
Ice Fishing harvest counts toward the 87,800 pounds harvestable surplus for the year. The DNR indicated that preliminary creel numbers suggest that the winter walleye harvest was approximately 15,000 pounds, roughly half of the 30,000 pound winter harvest during 2020. Perhaps in part due to late ice on Mille Lacs and better ice on other Minnesota lakes this winter, angler pressure was down significantly compared to the same period in 2020.
As the DNR considers and eventually finalizes 2021 fishing regulations for Lake Mille Lacs walleye, the following State Fishery Goals serve as guidelines:
- Keep the walleye season open all year
- No uplanned closures
- Allow walleye harvest when possible
With those tenants in mind, the DNR presented thirteen (13) plausible scenarios and one MLFAC “Request” scenario pertaining to walleye fishing restrictions during the summer of 2021. The model options are presented below and are compared to actual summer harvest from 2020 (see far left). For ease of presentation, the table below the chart was created; note that closures are shaded in grey, proposed harvest periods are shaded green and include the proposed slot limit, and C&R is meant to be short hard for Catch & Release Only.
From the modeled results, it seems that the DNR is likely to allow walleye harvest either May 15, 2021 to May 31, 2021, OR August 16, 2021 to October 31, 2021 (i.e., Fall). If a harvest is allowed, it will likely be paired with a summer closure in July – either the first half of the month or the entire month.
This post thus far has focused on walleye fishing. Let’s not forget that Mille Lacs also has world class bass, pike and other fishing. As it pertains to open water regulations, the following size restrictions – put into place this last year and worth remembering – are likely to persist into 2021: all bass over 17″ and all pike over 30″ will likely need to be immediately released.
The DNR will continue to tweak possibilities, run models and work to finalize the open water guidelines. Once things are official and the Mille Lacs summer fishing regulations are released, we will provide an update on this blog.
Finally, the DNR continues to work on a five-year lake management plan for Lake Mille Lacs and has completed a draft that is open for public comment. The management plan includes specific goals for walleye, northern pike and bass. Please visit the Mille Lacs Management Plan website to review the plan, register to attend the online public meeting on March 23, 2021 from 5-7pm, and comment on the plan online.
Update 3/23/2021: To see where the 2021 Summer Fishing Regulations ended up, check out our “2021 Mille Lacs Lake Open Water Fishing Regulations” blog post here.