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Walleye bag limits on two of Minnesota's most popular fishing lakes have been cut back this year, including no keepers on Mille Lacs until at least mid-August.

The 2024 open-water regulations for Mille Lacs and Upper Red Lake go into effect May 11, the opening day of walleye and northern pike fishing statewide, the Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday. Mille Lacs will be limited to catch-and-release until at least Aug. 16.

On Upper Red, state-licensed anglers will be allowed to keep three walleyes with only one longer than 17 inches. Starting June 15, the bag limit on Upper Red will increase to four walleyes, one longer than 17 inches.

DNR officials said anglers caught a lot of walleyes on both lakes over the winter. In the case of Mille Lacs, a hot bite that started last fall and continued all winter is expected to last for as long as natural forage supplies remain low. The DNR believes walleyes aren't getting enough to eat in Mille Lacs because yellow perch and tullibee populations are hurting.

Fisheries Chief Brad Parsons foreshadowed more restrictive walleye regulations this year when DNR announced last month that the lake's safe harvest level for 2024 has been set at 157,500 pounds, down about 10% from the previous fishing year. The harvest level is established jointly every year under a co-management agreement between DNR and Ojibwe bands with fishing rights. The state's allocation of the combined walleye quota this year is 91,550 pounds, and 65,500 pounds for tribal fishing.

Last year, state-licensed anglers on Mille Lacs kept fish all season and into the winter under a one-walleye bag limit that featured a restrictive slot. But with less harvest allowed in 2024, coupled with a hot bite and the likelihood of higher water temperatures this year, the DNR said it had to tighten regulations to keep from exceeding the walleye management quota.

Even with catch-and-release regulations, many fish die during catch-and-release when water temperatures get too warm, according to DNR studies of walleye hooking mortality on the big lake. By surveying anglers on Mille Lacs throughout the season, the DNR can keep a running estimate of the harvest.

Parsons said in a news release that this year's regulation aims to allow for keepers starting Aug. 16. As envisioned, anglers would then be able to harvest one walleye measuring 21-23 inches in length or one greater than 28 inches.

At Upper Red, where walleye management is a collaboration between the Red Lake Nation and the state of Minnesota, DNR Area Fisheries Supervisor Edie Evarts said this season's initial bag limit of three walleyes is meant to keep the state within its annual harvest quota after a record-high walleye harvest this winter. Red Lake catch rates and fishing pressure are highest in May and early June.

"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,'' Evarts said in a news release. "This fishing regulation is a reflection of the lake's popularity, especially when fishing is good."