ONAMIA, Minn. (WCCO) — Walleye are off the hook at one of the state’s most popular destinations for anglers.

Just after 10 p.m. Thursday, a walleye fishing ban went into effect on Lake Mille Lacs. That means the catch-and-release season is on hold for the next three weeks.

The DNR hopes that gives the walleye a break so their numbers can improve.

For 12 years, Chris Weglinski has been driving from Minneapolis to Mille Lacs, just to fish. But Thursday night was his last chance to reel in a walleye for a while.

“The population seems pretty healthy, but if the DNR says the mortality of catch-and-release will hurt, then maybe it’s a good idea,” said Weglinski.

The DNR said their top priority is to conserve walleye on Mille Lacs. Which is why they say they’re enacting this now, when the fish are vulnerable to stress from warm weather.

During the ban, the DNR doesn’t want anglers to even target walleye for catch-and-release. That means no live bait can be used, except for sucker minnows longer than eight inches.

A spokesman says that last year, more than 50 percent of “hooking mortality” happened in July. That’s when a fish dies after being released back into the water.

But it’s a phrase that’s far from a catch with many locals.

“I think it’s so much hooey,” said David Martin, who lives on the lake.

Martin said the ban impacts all kinds of fishing.

“You can’t even have crappie minnows if you want to catch a crappie. It’s so much to do about craziness as far as I’m concerned,” said Martin.

And Merne Mosher, who works on the lake, said walleye fishing this summer has been as good as he can remember.

“I don’t know how you can catch that many of them if they’re scarce. It just doesn’t make sense,” said Mosher.

Anglers can fish for bass and other fish during this three-week break, but only with artificial bait and lures. Already this summer, anglers have caught about half of the walleye allowed by the DNR.

John Lauritsen