By Kate Raddatz

MILLE LACS LAKE, Minn. (WCCO) — Anglers all over the state are hitting the lakes Saturday for the Minnesota fishing opener.

Once one of the most popular spots around, walleye fishing on Lake Mille Lacs is catch-and-release this year.

While that’s good for the struggling walleye population, it’s not great for businesses in the area.

The work for this year’s fishing opener was more than just prepping the boat.

“We’re going to give her a whirl, we’re dressed appropriately and we’ll see what happens,” said one angler.

The cold wasn’t the only thing scaring anglers away on Lake Mille Lacs.

“There should be seven boats lined up against my dock,” said Linda Eno, owner of Twin Pines Resort. “The DNR pretty much has scared our fishermen away.”

The DNR has made efforts to improve the walleye population on the lake. Last year anglers were only allowed to keep one walleye before walleye fishing was closed early for the season.

This year they have to throw back whatever they catch.

“They were biting really good,” said Anthony Swanson, an angler from Maple Grove.

Swanson went out right at midnight. He said he thinks the population is improving. He caught 27 walleye in four hours.

“It’s more than I’ve caught on this lake in my lifetime and I’m 61,” said Swanson.

“Right when we got there we caught the first one, in like less than two minutes,” said one fisherman.

“As soon as we dropped in the water we caught a big fish, was like 26 inches,” said his fishing partner.

Business owners hope the hearty catches will reel the anglers back in. But for some, more or less walleye doesn’t take away what they’re fishing for.

“It’s about spending time with the kids, it’s about the tradition, all of those things,” said an angler.

Of the four people that went out at midnight at Twin Pines, they caught over 50 walleye. They said they missed about 30.

The DNR just recently released 10 million newly hatched walleye fry as part of a research project to determine an appropriate stocking plan for the lake.

Another popular spot for fishing opener is Bald Eagle Lake in Ramsey County.

The DNR was on hand Saturday with information and advice for a successful first day.

Central region fisheries manager Brad Parsons said people braved the cold to get an early start.

There are about 1.4 million licensed anglers in Minnesota. The DNR says they expect around 500,000 people to come out and fish on Saturday.

Kate Raddatz