By Jennifer Mayerle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Department of Natural Resources expects more anglers will head to Lake Mille Lacs for the fishing opener this year. For the first time since 2015, people will be allowed to keep some of the walleye they catch during the first three weeks of open water fishing.

In the months before the frozen lake gives way to open fishing waters, anglers and businesses learn how the state’s walleye restrictions will impact them.

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“This new regulation is going to help people out a lot,” guide Mike Verdeja said.

Verdeja is glad anglers will be able to keep a fish a day before the season moves to catch and release, but he said that will put a big push on the opener and the days that follow, a time that is already busy.

“I would have loved to see them open up that keeping only for the fall. We would have been able to see what kind of summer we were going to have. It would have really driven a lot of business in a time when we don’t have much,” Verdeja said.

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The DNR said it didn’t want to take two steps forward and then one step back. That’s why it’s moving forward in incremental steps, allowing anglers to keep one walleye a day, in a slot, from the opener until the end of May. Mille Lacs anglers will be able to keep one walleye between 21 and 23 inches or one walleye over 28 inches from Saturday, May 11, through Friday, May 31.

“As with any process, we have to be patient and we all want that chocolate bar right now but sometimes we’re better off if we wait a little bit ensure a good fishery for generations,” Tim Potozcny said.

Potozcny is a newer owner of McQuoid’s Inn on Mille Lacs. When he came in, it was catch and release and there were bait restrictions for walleye fishing.  Some businesses really felt the pinch. He quickly learned to diversify and not be solely reliant on the state fish.

“We try to offer a lot of different things to do. We have the best small-mouth lake in the country so we do lots of that fishing and then we’re also situated on 300 miles of groomed trails for ATV and snowmobiling,” Potozcny said.

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He hopes what the DNR is doing now will pay off down the road.

Jennifer Mayerle