MILLE LACS COUNTY, Minn. (WCCO) — The lure of finally catching the big one is expected to draw more than a half-million anglers to Minnesota lakes this weekend. The walleye season starts Saturday at midnight.

This year, the governor’s fishing opener is celebrating along the Mississippi River in St. Cloud. Already Friday afternoon, the DNR taught fourth graders how to fish.

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Up on Mille Lacs, businesses that call the shore home are ready to welcome thousands of visitors. Like last year, it’s a catch-and-release walleye season on the lake.

This summer, there will be a three-week closure on catching walleye right in the middle of the season. It’s once again leaving shops and resorts to work around the ever-changing fishing rules.

The water in Lake Mille Lacs is calm and cool — but one of those is about to change.

Jodi Kanera runs Mille Lacs Island Resort on the lake’s south side – where people have already been prepping for the summer.

“We’re going to see a lot of boats and a lot of people having fun,” she said. “Now it’s a matter of bringing their boats up, getting their boats in the water and going out and enjoying the lake.”

And for many, that means loading up on the essentials for a successful season of fishing.

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Bill Lundeen runs a bait shop. He says the recent excitement is partially thanks to the winter season.

“The anticipation is huge. I mean, it’s almost unbearable,” he said. “Anybody who takes a breath has heard how great the bite was on Mille Lacs this winter 00:01:31 so we’re expecting huge things for this coming summer.”

What he wasn’t expecting was a three-week closure on catching walleye in July. The DNR made the decision in order to manage the fish’s population. People can hook other species like bass during that time, but they can’t use live bait.

“Frankly, when you run a bait shop and they have a live bait restriction, you kind of scratch your head and wonder what’s around the corner,” Lundeen said.

It’s another hurdle he and other fishing businesses have had to endure, but Kanera is confident the beauty of Lake Mille Lacs will keep reeling people in from all across the state.

“But what is it all about? It’s about catching fish — not necessarily being able to thrown them in a pan. Although, it would be nice,” she said. “But go to the local restaurants — they have phenomenal walleye dinners.”

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The DNR says having the three-week closure in July allows the walleye season to extend through the start of September. The agency says it should also help protect the younger walleye that will rebuild the lake’s population.

Jeff Wagner