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Some Mille Lacs walleye can be kept in May

The Minnesota DNR will allow anglers to keep one walleye 21-23 inches each day on Lake Miile Lacs, but only between May 11 and May 31. News Tribune file photo.

As promised earlier this year the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has set a season for anglers to keep some walleyes on Mille Lacs Lake for the first time since 2015.

Anglers will be able to keep one walleye between 21 and 23 inches long from the fishing opener on May 11 through May 31.

After that walleye fishing on the big central Minnesota lake will revert back to catch-and-release only, which it has been all open water seasons since 2016.

The DNR says the lake's once-depleted walleye population has recovered enough to allow some harvest, especially thanks to a good 2013 year class of young walleyes moving up, the first successful new group of walleyes in years.

"It's good news that anglers get to keep some walleye this May, but we are being cautious," said Brad Parsons, DNR fisheries chief. "These regulations represent a careful balance between expanding fishing opportunities and conserving the fishery for the future."

Similar to recent years, no night fishing will be allowed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. beginning May 13. The night walleye closure will remain in effect throughout the entire open-water season.

The DNR expects a big increase in the number of anglers fishing during the period when walleye harvest is allowed. Allowing the harvest during May, when water temperatures are cooler, will limit the mortality of released walleye associated with this increase in pressure. Both harvested fish and those that die as a result of being caught and released are counted against the state's walleye harvest allocation.

The Mille Lacs walleye population has undergone many changes over the past two decades that have coincided with significant aquatic system changes including increased water clarity and decreased walleye productivity; the introduction of zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny water fleas; a changing zooplankton community that may be altering the aquatic food web; and declines in certain forage species, including tullibee.

The state and the Ojibwe tribes with harvest rights in Mille Lacs Lake agreed on a 2019 safe harvest level of 150,000 pounds of walleye, resulting in a state allocation of 87,800 pounds. Under the catch-and-release only regulation last year, walleye angler kill totaled just over 47,000 pounds.