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DNR lifts ban on night fishing on Mille Lacs Lake

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Anglers will once again be able to fish at night on Mille Lacs Lake. The Department of Natural Resources is lifting its ban on night fishing on the popular walleye lake effective July 21 at 10 p.m., according to a news release.

The agency is reversing a decision it made earlier in the year when it instituted the ban over concerns about the lake's declining walleye population. Originally, the ban was meant to be in effect until Dec. 1.

But the walleye catch on Mille Lacs has been quite a lot lower than usual so far – the June walleye harvest was a record low for Mille Lacs, according to the Star Tribune – so the agency said night fishing can resume without much worry over whether the yearly walleye quota will be exceeded.

Fewer anglers have been out on Mille Lacs so far this season, for several reasons. The night fishing ban itself has kept some away, as has the cooler weather. The walleye aren't biting as much, either, likely because there are plenty of other fish in the lake for them to eat, such as yellow perch, according to the DNR.

Resort owners, fishing guides and commercial fishing launches are happy to hear the news. According to the Star Tribune, their business has been way down because of the ban, which has disrupted the nighttime walleye fishing following that's developed on Mille Lacs over the years.

Anglers are also discouraged by the strict harvest limit for walleyes; they can only keep two walleyes between 18 and 20 inches, or one smaller one and one trophy over 28 inches, the St. Paul Pioneer Press  reports.

The Mille Lacs walleye population has been declining in recent years. The DNR says fewer walleye hatchlings are reaching adulthood, but they're not exactly sure why. It is likely a combination of several factors, including the introduction of invasive species like zebra mussels, which is changing the food chain patterns in the lake.

The agency points out that the lifting of the night fishing ban does not mean the walleye problem has been solved.

“The DNR is not removing the night closure because Mille Lacs Lake has recovered," DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira said in the news release. "More young walleye still need to survive their first year and keep growing from year to year into larger walleye. Conditions this year combined for a slow bite, allowing DNR to re-open an activity that helps the Mille Lacs area economy and is a tradition among many fishing families.”

There's more information on the DNR's website.

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