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About fishing: Winter angling responsibilities

 Sam Cook, nationally prominent outdoor writer, enjoyed a day in Northern Minnesota doing what he loves most - reporting on the outdoors, which included winter crappie fishing.  When the article came out he included the name of the lake, which in some people’s opinion was not a good idea. Myself, I’m reluctant to give out my best crappie lakes and spots for fear the throngs of anglers converge on the lake. In the mix to consider, fishermen who overharvest on trip after trip, taking more than their limit when the crappies are on a bite.  Few of us anymore rely on fish for food, so wouldn’t just a few fish to eat be ample? Some, and unfortunately many, anglers disagree. “Time to load up the freezer,” one fisherman told me.  I recall ice fishing on a lake by Nevis when two fishermen, living on the lake, came out morning and evening hauling buckets full of crappies back to their lake home. I asked, why are you taking so many fish? The reply, “we pay a lot of taxes to be on this lake so see no problem in what we are doing.”  

This opened the door for me to explain that the daily limit of 10 crappies is also the maximum number of fish they can keep or have in their possession. That doesn’t mean 10 fish every trip out. Somewhat surprised at that little bit of information, the two decided to pack it in.   A few years back a Portage lake property owner was concerned that the mass of anglers on the lake day in and day out were taking too many crappies. He was certainly justified in his concerns. I informed him he can’t close the access so the next best thing would be to report it to a conservation officer. However, we can’t expect them to be everywhere. I suggested a call to the TIP LINE might be in order too.   My 50-plus years of crappie fishing have seen what taking limit after limit of crappies by large groups of winter anglers does. Simply, it puts the lake into a downward population trend, taking years for the lake to rebound. Angling pressure backs off, crappies may or may not rebound again. With proper shoreline spawning habitat and years of perfect “crappie spawning springs” the likelihood for a comeback is there.   

A handful of resource managers I speak with believe when anglers hit on a hot crappie bite, continually catching and releasing dozens upon dozens may not be as good as it looks or seems. Crappies caught out of deep water or not immediately put back into the water, as simple as subjecting the fish’s eye membranes to freezing, is all it takes for mortality.   Swimming away, doesn’t necessarily mean it will survive. Some resource professionals feel the best for future of any fish population is take the fish you want to keep, throw a “few” back in the process and head in or try for other species.   It boils down to anglers themselves can control their take. Overharvest of any fish species is not good. Call it one of anglers’ several responsibilities.