It’s that time of year again! As the temperatures drop and glistening ice begins to form on Lake Mille Lacs, the beloved tradition of ice fishing commences. We want you to be well informed and well prepared so all you need to worry about when you’re on the ice is fish taking your bait and whether you’ll bake, fry, or smoke your catch when your adventure is over. Please read on for important regulations, and up-to-date ice conditions as truly the most wonderful time of the year begins!
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources released winter fishing regulations for Mille Lacs Lake which will be effective starting on December 1, 2023. As was the case during our four prior Mille Lacs ice fishing seasons, anglers will again be allowed to keep one walleye between 21-23 inches or one walleye longer than 28 inches.
The team at The Red Door Resort is looking forward to the upcoming hard water season and would like to share a summary of the Mille Lacs Lake regulations that will be in place during ice fishing. These are put in place to conserve healthy fish populations, and to allow all anglers to enjoy the science and art of fishing, among other important reasons.
Walleye: From December 1, 2023, through February 27, 2024, anglers will be allowed to keep one walleye between 21-23 inches or one walleye longer than 28 inches. All other walleye must be immediately released.
Tullibee (Cisco): Each angler’s possession limit is five tullibee (cisco).
Burbot (Eelpout): No burbot harvest is allowed. All eelpout must be immediately released.
Northern Pike: All pike greater than 30 inches must be immediately released. Now through March 31, 2024, the daily limit is three. The spearing season lasts from November 15, 2023, to February 26, 2024; see additional Dark House Spearing information below.
Perch: The perch season is always open. The daily limit is 20 fish, and the possession limit is 40.
Muskellunge: The muskie season closes on November 30, 2023, and will reopen in early June 2024.
Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass: The largemouth bass harvest is open through February 26, 2024; all largemouth bass greater than 17 inches must be immediately released. The smallmouth bass angling season is catch-and-release only through February 26, 2024.
Dark House Spearing: Northern pike is allowed to be speared from a dark house on Mille Lacs from sunrise to sunset from November 15, 2023, through February 26, 2024. Pike size and harvest restrictions for spearing reflect those of angling restrictions (no spearing pike over 30 inches, and a possession limit of 3). No artificial lights are allowed to attract fish. Lighted decoy fish are allowed but must not contain batteries with mercury. If you are between the ages of 18 and 89 years or a non-Minnesota resident, don’t forget to add the Spearing / Annual endorsement to your angling license and for ice safety reasons, please mark your spearing holes when you depart. As noted above, the Northern pike angling continues to be allowed after the dark house spearing season closes.
Ice Fishing Shelters on Mille Lacs Lake must be off the ice no later than midnight on March 6, 2024.
For the latest updates on ice conditions, follow this blog and The Red Door Resort’s Instagram account @thereddoorresort.
Pack your ice skimmer, bait, and warm layers. We can’t wait to see you soon on the north side of Lake Mille Lacs!
Current Mille Lacs Lake fishing regulations can be found here.
The full DNR press release is below.
MILLE LACS LAKE WINTER ANGLERS CAN HARVEST ONE WALLEYE STARTING DEC. 1
Fall assessment shows walleye population is abundant enough to sustain some harvest.
October 31, 2023
The walleye limit for Upper Red Lake will decrease from the five allowed during open water season to four this winter while the Mille Lacs Lake walleye limit will remain at one.
“Fall netting assessments on both lakes suggest these harvest levels will keep walleye populations sustainable and healthy,” said Brad Parsons, fisheries section manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “We’re pleased to offer anglers harvest opportunities on both lakes.”
Effective Wednesday, Nov. 1, anglers fishing on the state waters of Upper Red Lake can keep up to four walleye with one longer than 17 inches.
Beginning Friday, Dec. 1, Mille Lacs Lake anglers can keep one walleye 21-23 inches long or one longer than 28 inches.
The DNR sets winter regulations for these lakes after the completion of annual fall population assessments.
Results from Upper Red showed an optimal level of walleye spawning stock and a high overall net catch rate, especially of nearly mature walleye.
Mille Lacs’ results found slightly lower walleye numbers than in 2022 but the continued strong presence of walleye born in 2013 and 2017 and acceptable numbers of walleye born in 2021 and 2022 suggest there are adequate numbers of younger fish to keep the population sustainable as they mature and reproduce to replace fish caught by anglers.
Insights from fall assessment
The 2022 assessment showed improvement from the 2021 netting. Fisheries staff observed an abundance of walleye similar to numbers seen in recent years. The 2013-year class continues to be the most abundant, followed by fish hatched in 2017. The 2017-year class fish are now 18-21 inches long, with faster growing individuals exceeding 21 inches.
Fish that hatched in 2020-2022 were also sampled in higher numbers. It is encouraging to see additional year classes that may eventually contribute to the fishery, but the ultimate impact to the walleye population won’t be known for several years, Parsons said.
“Although there is no guarantee these fish will survive to adulthood in high numbers, we are cautiously optimistic that these year classes could contribute to the fishery in future years,” Parsons said.
The fall assessment also looks at food abundance and walleye health. Perch and cisco are the primary food source for Mille Lacs’ walleye. Perch abundance has increased because of strong 2020–2021-year classes.
Walleye condition, or “plumpness,” improved significantly for fish greater than 14 inches, reflecting the increased availability of forage fish. The higher abundance of food in the lake also has likely affected anglers’ catch rates, which were lower in 2022 than in recent years.
“A lower catch rate in the late summer and fall can sometimes carry over into the winter if forage is abundant, but predators can also reduce forage later in the winter and the bite may improve,” Parsons said.
Contact: Tom Heinrich, Mille Lacs area fisheries manager, 320-525-3882.