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Regional experts share tips at first annual fishing expo

A panel of regional fishing guides discussed fishing techniques, equipment and more. The special guests were, from left, Jason Durham, Chip Leer, Paul Nelson, Jason Freed and Brian Brosdahl.1 / 2
Chip Leer, a 2019 Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame inductee, shared tips for catching walleye at Saturday's first-ever Park Rapids Lakes Area Fishing Expo. (Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)2 / 2

There is no magic lure or bait.

And when it comes to aquatic invasive species, "We've got a long ways to go and a lot to protect."

Professional fishing guide Chip Leer shared these bits of wisdom — and a few fish tales — at the first-ever Park Rapids Lakes Area Fishing Expo.

He spoke to a packed room Friday filled with about 230 eager anglers.

The free event was co-sponsored by Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA), Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Riverside United Methodist Church and Hubbard County Environmental Services Office.

Leer, who lives in Walker, is the stage and TV host for the Cabela's National Walleye Tour, which airs to over 130 million households worldwide. He is a 2019 inductee into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, located in Hayward, Wis. Leer also manages the popular digital fishing information portal, Fishing the Wildside.

As the expo's featured speaker, Leer discussed walleye fishing, protecting Minnesota's natural resources and AIS prevention.

To catch the elusive, prized walleye, Leer recommended that anglers find their own water and avoid pressure areas. Fish where others aren't and try things others don't, he said, whether it's in open water or ice-fishing season.

Play detective, Leer said, asking local bait shops which fish species are biting and where and how. What type of lure is being used? How is it being used?

"The one thing really good anglers can do, they've got the ability to interview anglers and pull out the details that matter," Leer said.

When family or friends visit northern Minnesota, "we all fish the same bodies of water. We fish the same way in the same places because we caught fish there once. The best thing you can do on your own home body of water is lose your GPS coordinates. Forget 'em," he said.

Leer advised experimentation. Change locations — deep, shallow, shoreline, weeds, rocks. Mix up the presentation — twitching, jigging, popping, fast, slow. Try different types and colors of lures.

"Instead of going to the same ol' spot, always ask yourself, 'Where did the fish go next?'" he said.

With more than 10,000 lakes and 69,000 miles of rivers in Minnesota, Leer noted that fishing ranks as the state's number one outdoor activity. The industry generates $4.2 billion dollars, yet only 50 cents on a dollar are being reinvested in fisheries, supporting youth or protecting the resource for future generations, Leer said.

Leer urged anglers to join the MN-Fish Sportfishing Foundation and Coalition, an advocacy network to give anglers a voice in the state Legislature and DNR on all fishing related issues. Charter membership is free.

Leer works with Minnesota Traditions, an educational movement about AIS formed through the Mississippi Headwaters Board.

Less than 7 percent of the state's water bodies are invested with invasive species, Leer said, but there are 50,000 non-native species in the U.S. and 4,300 of those are considered invasive. "The fight is not over," he said.

Protecting the resource

Regional fishing guides encouraged all anglers to regularly clean, drain and dry their boats. The guest panelists included Leer, Jason Durham of Nevis, Paul Nelson of Bemidji, Jason Freed of the Leech Lake area and Brian Brosdahl of Bemidji.

Kev Jackson, host and producer of "Fishing Paul Bunyan Country," served as master of ceremonies.

Durham reminded audience members that Hubbard County Environmental Services Department provides free watercraft decontamination. The station is located at 812 Henrietta Ave. S., between the Detail Shop and transfer station.

"Hubbard County does more boat inspections than any county in the state of Minnesota," Durham said. "We're really being proactive on this. At the same, lakes are becoming infested around us."

Freed said he is always respectful of AIS water inspectors at lake accesses because it's all about protecting the resource. "If we can do due diligence with our lakes, we'll continue to have great lakes for the rest of our lives."

Brosdahl said he'd like to see more wash stations that are easily accessible.

Leer said he religiously flushes the interior and exterior of his boat with bleach water and a hot, high-pressure wash.

After the event concluded, COLA president Sharon Natzel said, "We were pleased with the diversity of attendees from all age groups who traveled the snowy roads to come, participate and learn from the fishing experts with tables, plus our featured speaker and regional fishing guide panelists. We heard many compliments expressed as folks exited the venue and headed home dreaming about their future successful fishing outings as a result of trying new fishing techniques and/or services. These fishing enthusiasts enhanced their knowledge in protecting the fishing resources by learning how the speaker, panelists and fishing guides take care of their own gear, equipment and boats to prevent the spread of hitchhiking aquatic invasive species."

Natzel said she hoped the county's cleaning station will be utilized even more with greater awareness.

"The 'clean, drain, dry' message was also carried home on fly swatters, sponges, bobbers, flashlights, rulers, coasters, and buttons to help attendees share the message with others, too," she said.