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Walleye fishing ban looms on Mille Lacs Lake as catches near annual limit

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Fishing for walleye on Mille Lacs Lake could be suspended by state officials within weeks as anglers were just 3,000 pounds from the annual catch limit by the middle of July.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said that a strong catch during the Fourth of July weekend, coupled with the warm weather, means the 28,600-pound walleye quota for this 12-month period could be reached as soon as July 29.

The DNR implemented a one walleye limit for anglers in April and banned nighttime fishing in a bid to replenish walleye populations in the lake, which had fallen to the lowest level seen in 40 years.

And it has warned anglers that if they exceed the state's 12-month quota, it will suspend all forms of walleye fishing on the lake.

Part of the reason the harvest has been so high is because of warm water temperatures, which increases the likelihood that walleye released back into the water will die. These dead walleye are counted towards the overall limit.

There was also a dramatic rise in the number of walleye caught between July 1-15. The DNR said by June 30, only around 13,000 pounds of walleye had been harvested, but this had risen to more than 25,000 by July 15, mainly the result of catches made over Independence Day weekend.

The DNR had ordered a strict annual limit of a 40,000-pound walleye harvest this year – down from 60,000 pounds the year before – with 11,400 pounds given to eight Chippewa bands with harvest rights under an 1837 treaty.

"Mille Lacs Lake remains one of the premiere fishing destinations in the state," DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said in the news release. "Northern pike and smallmouth bass are at or near record highs. Anglers should take advantage of the liberal regulations for these species. DNR tagging studies also indicate that muskies larger than 50 inches have never been more abundant."

Gov. Mark Dayton has ordered the DNR to wait until the next creel survey for the period July 15-31 before making any decisions on fishing the lake, in case the July 15 figures are "an aberration."

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