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Why you won't be allowed to catch walleye on Mille Lacs for 3 weeks

Walleye are off-limits, even if it's catch-and-release.

There's a weird wrinkle to the walleye season on Mille Lacs this summer, beyond the catch-and-release policy.

For 21 days, walleye are completely off-limits. No ifs, ands or buts about it – stay away from the iconic species from July 7 through July 27.

So what's the deal? Why the midseason halt?

Hot water and stress

The catch-and-release rules are in place to help the Mille Lacs walleye population, which the DNR is trying to build back up after years of decline.

But catch-and-release doesn't guarantee a fish lives. Some of them die after being released, a behavior that's referred to as hooking mortality. When the water temperature goes up – a 2003-04 DNR study found water temps of 68 degrees or higher increased the rate the fish died. (The agency last year was working on getting updated data, the Pioneer Press reported.)

"The plan is for this closure to coincide with the hottest part of the summer when released fish are vulnerable to stress," Don Pereira, DNR fisheries section chief, said in a news release. "Warm water combined with July’s higher fishing pressure means that more fish die – even those that are caught and returned to the water."

Combining with the hooking mortality, the DNR said more people caught walleye on Mille Lacs during the winter season than expected, equaling about one-third of the total amount of walleye anglers can harvest this year.

By turning off all walleye fishing for three weeks, the DNR is hoping it will allow the walleye season to last until Labor Day – which should, in turn, help local businesses that rely on the fishing industry.

What about other fish?

Other fish aren't affected by this 21-day suspension.

So for bass, muskie and northern pike, go crazy (but still keep the standard lake guidelines in mind). However, you do have to use artificial baits and lures unless you're going after northern pike or muskie – then sucker minnows longer than 8 inches are OK.

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Walleye are off-limits, even if it's catch-and-release.

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