MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Of all the fish to call Lake Mille Lacs home, only one is honored with such grand stature along its shore: the walleye.

So why is the walleye Minnesota’s most popular fish? WCCO spoke with Brad Parsons, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ fisheries section manager.

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“I think a lot of it is just because they’re so good to eat,” Parsons said. “We really are the heart of walleye country.”

Despite their iconic status, there aren’t really all that many Minnesota lakes that hold our treasured walleye.

“We manage about 1,600 lakes in the state for walleye, and about 1,200 of those we do with stocking,” Parsons said.

(credit: CBS)

About 100 rivers and streams in the state also flow with walleye down below.

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“The Mississippi, the [St.] Croix and the Minnesota are all tremendous walleye fisheries,” he said.

Figuring out the fish population in those deep pools and running waters is tough, but after surveying anglers, the DNR estimates around three million to four million walleye are caught in the state per year.

Minnesota actually imported $14-million worth of fish meat from Canada last year — including most of the walleye on our dinner plates. Commercial fishing used to happen in our state.

“But we realized that the value of these fish was much greater if we had them out there for sport anglers to harvest, so that was phased out quite a while ago,” Parsons said. “But the walleye populations in many cases are in really good shape.”

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If you fish on Lake Mille Lacs during this weekend’s fishing opener, you can only keep one walleye. However, on many other lakes the limit is between four and six.

Jeff Wagner