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About Fishing: Understanding state's fishery resources is vital to its future

Park Rapids’ top area bass anglers, James Eischens and Mike Johnson, enjoyed another excellent 2017 bass fishing season. (Gary Korsgaden/For the Enterprise)

Sport fisherman enjoyed a pretty good 2017 fishing season in the Park Rapids area.

Walleyes, elusive then at other times, showed a willingness to engage with anglers. Bass anglers enjoyed an excellent season. Panfish, sunfish and crappies were abundant in supply and size.

Around the state, anglers had a lot to be optimistic about. Red Lake was a bright spot in the state. Leech Lake, a close second, could see some changes in the slot size limit for walleyes in 2018. Hearing sport fishing concerns, officials are considering opening up the slot size to allow for a few larger walleye pike to be harvested. Lake of Woods, well known for some of the best fishing Minnesota has to offer, has seen increased winter angling pressure, and measures are being taken in 2018 to ensure a continued healthy fishery.

Mille Lacs, a body of water with deep roots in the state's fishing heritage, puzzles the state's fishery experts. Test net data shows the walleye population at a low density and number; angler perception and catch rates by fisherman tell a different story. Mille Lacs fishing experts point to a lack of forage, like yellow perch, and many cooperative hungry walleyes causing a higher catch rate in 2017.

Minnesota's resident and nonresident anglers have a lot to look forward to in 2018, but not without a few concerns. How will anglers respond to the state's new eight northern pike regulations? Will anglers harvest more northern pike in the 18- and 24-inch sizes and release the larger ones caught — a process so necessary for the northern pike program and its success?

There's a renewed effort, in the new year, to adopt a four walleye limit statewide. Walleye stocking programs will be fine-tuned to bodies of water that offer a better return on investment. How will anglers react to these changes in 2018?

The threat of aquatic invasive species (AIS) to Minnesota waters is forever on the horizon. Some would like to see tougher regulations by the Minnesota DNR to stop or slow the spread of AIS, such as stiffer restrictions for public access on public waters by recreational boaters. One example in 2017 was a mandatory decontamination program launched in Wright County requiring all watercraft to be decontaminated before launch. Will other counties follow their example and do the same?

Socially driven fisheries management plans are becoming more accepted by the public, ignoring those rooted with sound biological data. One example: Anglers could see a bill attempting to stop musky stocking, if not at a statewide level, then regionally. Musky stocking is a hotly contested topic, driven with strong emotions on both sides of the issue. Data overwhelmingly supports introducing a large apex predator, such as a musky, into the lake's ecosystem. It only boils down only to the public's fear of a large fish in the lakes and the false perception that musky will eat a lot of the other fish.

It is my opinion, if the attempt to manage all our resources doesn't adhere to or understand the biological facts for its betterment, anglers and the resource are certain to lose in the end.