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Walleye fisherman, Minn DNR confusion

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image denotes commentary by Jeff Sundin Jeff Sundin March 14, 2024 "MN Walleye Regulations Changing the Change-Able"

image of walleye looking into the camera On Wednesday, MN DNR fisheries announced new summer regulations for both Upper Red Lake and Lake Mille Lacs. Long story short, Red Lake Anglers will be allowed to harvest 3 walleyes from May 11 to June 14, 2024, then beginning June 15, Red Lake anglers will be allowed to harvest 4 walleyes. During either period, only one walleye may be 17.0 inches or longer, all others must be 16.99 inches or less.

Mille Lacs anglers will not be allowed to harvest any walleyes from May 11, through August 15, 2024. Beginning on August 16, 2024, Mille walleye anglers may or may not be allowed to harvest one walleye, presumably that will be announced later. If the DNR deems that harvesting a walleye is acceptable, it’s length will need to be between 21.0 and 22.99 inches.

You can read the full press releases for either, or both, by following these links >> Upper Red LakeLake Mille LacsFull MN Regulation Book

Understand this, I’m all for regulations that are aimed at improving or maintaining the best possible fishing and hunting opportunities that Minnesota has to offer. As far as regulations go, these new ones are what they are and I’m in no position to know if they’re good for fishing, or not. I must admit though that this morning, I’m scratching my head, trying to figure out just which messages I’m receiving, and from whom.

I thought I heard that in 2022-2023, Mille Lacs Lake experienced a population explosion of perch. According to anecdotal reports, anglers were catching tons of little perch out there. But this year the DNR Fisheries Chief Brad Parsons cites a shortage of forage, perch in particular, for producing an exceptionally good walleye bite.

Parsons, “Despite poor ice conditions, anglers caught a lot of walleyes this past fall and winter because those fish weren’t finding enough to eat,” said Brad Parsons, DNR Fisheries Section Manager. “We need to adjust the open water season regulations to account for the active bite and for the likelihood of higher water temperatures this summer. Even with catch-and-release regulations, many fish die when water temperatures get too warm.”

If I’m reading this right, the 2024 regulation is based on the notion that the fish will be too hungry, and then we’ll catch them too easily and then they’ll die because the water will be too warm. If that’s true, then why are we allowing fishing for them at all? Won’t the so-called “catch and release” anglers be killing just as many fish, if not more, than we would by harvesting a few of them?
Last year, at Upper Red Lake, anglers were allowed an increased harvest limit from 4 to 5 walleyes during the 2023 open water fishing season. I scratched my head at the time because I couldn’t square the notion that in the face of a statewide push to reduce Minnesota’s walleye possession limit to 4 fish, the DNR was raising the limit of walleyes for Upper Red.

At the time, Bemidji area fisheries supervisor Edie Evarts said, “This summer (2023) we are able to have a more generous bag limit as the 2019 class is super abundant. These fish are around 15 inches and are now becoming mature, “We hope anglers will enjoy this extra opportunity, which will also meet our goal of managing spawning walleye stock at a level that produces future strong year classes.”

This year, Evarts reports; “This fishing regulation is a reflection of the lake’s popularity, especially when fishing is good,” said Edie Evarts, DNR area fisheries supervisor for Bemidji. “We’ve opted for a slightly more conservative bag limit for the early part of the summer to maintain the long-term health of the fishery and keep Upper Red Lake a premier angling destination.”

I’m not sure what the term “slightly” means to you, but the change from 5 fish down to 3 is a 40% reduction. To me, that signals that there was a problem that a 4-walleye limit can’t fix. I think you may see where I’m going with this, but in the interest of time, we’ll save the discussion about rationing walleyes for a later time.

On balance, I think my take on most fishing regulations tends to lean toward being supportive of the DNR, rather than in opposition to it. But I’m concerned that I’m detecting trends toward stories that change all the time. These days, I have a hard time understanding whether I’m hearing actual facts, or carefully crafted talking points.

I don’t envy folks who work for the DNR, I know lots of them, and they deal with variables that make decisions hard to make. Like I said, regulations are what they are, and I know we need them. So, let me emphasize, I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, I’m not. I just want to understand what’s going on, and to me, it’s getting harder all the time. Is there any way that we anglers can we all just have the facts? fish smiley image — Jeff Sundin 218-245-9858 or EMAIL

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Mille Lacs and Upper Red are unique bodies of water.  Mille Lacs is federally bound by the Supreme Court to uphold a native american treaty.  The MN DNR's rules are dictated by that and they are forced to manage the harvest of walleye with the natives.  The natives are permitted to harvest fish before opener with nets and they are granted 65,000 pounds of walleye there this season.


Upper Red is the only lake in the entire country that still has a commercial walleye harvest.  Only a very small portion of the eastern basin is open to state anglers.  The bands completely wiped out walleyes there years ago and the DNR had to re-stock it.  It came back from the brink after being completely closed for years, but at a cost.  The genetic strain is no longer pure anymore because they are stocked fish.


Mille Lacs is primarily now a catch and release fishery.  If you are going there to keep fish, you are going there for the wrong reason.  It currently holds the state record muskie and is likely to produce the next state record smallmouth.  You can certainly catch walleye there but they are very restrictive about keeping any.  People travel there from several states away to target the smallmouth bass and pressure has increased heavily, making them harder to catch.  Would not bother me if less people were out there this season.


I haven't been to Upper Red in years.  Its very popular during early ice fishing season.  I'm sure everyone heard of people getting stranded out there on the ice this past winter.


I went to Mille Lacs 3 times last season and it was arguably my best season out there in 15 years.



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