Dayton says he'll insist there be walleye fishing on Mille Lacs this winter

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Minnesota's governor says it's crucial that walleye be on the menu of fishing options when anglers hit the ice of Mille Lacs Lake this winter.

Gov. Mark Dayton told reporters Thursday he will insist that the Department of Natural Resources open the popular central Minnesota lake to walleye fishing this winter, the Associated Press reports.

With walleye numbers at their lowest level in decades on Mille Lacs, the DNR shut down the summer season early. The agency plans to announce this fall what the regulations on the lake will be when winter fishing opens on December 1.

But Forum News Service reports Dayton said he's already told the DNR's commissioner "...that I want to be engaged at the end in making that decision." Dayton said it's crucial that there be a good winter fishing season on Mille Lacs.

The abbreviated walleye season meant less revenue for the many resorts around the lake that cater to anglers. Dayton's suggestion of a special legislative session to approve state aid for those businesses went nowhere with lawmakers.

Now the owners of those businesses are nervous about the effect on ice fishing.

Some told the Pioneer Press this week that January is normally their busiest month of the year – but said the uncertainty about walleye regulations has some out-of-state anglers making plans to visit Red Lake or Lake of the Woods instead of Mille Lacs.

The DNR's plans for Mille Lacs

The Star Tribune reports Dayton's remarks on Thursday may have caught some DNR staff off guard.

The agency has planned to use the results of its fall survey of walleye numbers on Mille Lacs to set the terms of the winter fishing season. The DNR's fisheries chief told the newspaper he doesn't know how the governor's statement will affect the plan.

There's no consensus on what has caused the number of walleye in Mille Lacs to plummet in recent years. While scientists study that question, the DNR announced a package of steps aimed at reviving the state fish in one of Minnesota's most popular lakes.

They include a new fishery with staff who will focus exclusively on Mille Lacs. There will also be an advisory committee with input from local business owners.

The DNR says it wants to rebuild trust with those in the Mille Lacs area but as MPR News reports, there is plenty of animosity toward the agency to overcome.

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