An early fishing opener for Minnesota?
St. Paul — Fishermen would be able to target walleyes a week earlier than usual this year, under a proposal from two northern Minnesota lawmakers.
The proposal, which Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, plans to amend onto the House Game and Fish Bill, would allow anglers to target walleyes May 5, a week earlier than the May 12 opener.
Just don’t call it the fishing opener.
“Rather than calling it the Minnesota fishing opener on May 5, let’s call it a bonus week because of the unusual conditions,” Dill said.
The DNR doesn’t support the idea.
“This is something that’s worked well since 1948,” said Dirk Peterson, DNR Fisheries chief. “We think the traditional opener should be maintained as it is.”
Dill said his proposal, which Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, also has pushed, would apply only this year. As of earlier this week, the idea hadn’t been vetted on the House floor.
And Dill still was waiting for information from the DNR. If the agency provides information that opening the fishing season a week early would be biologically detrimental, Dill said he would change his position.
“If they’ve got some solid stuff, then we certainly want to look at it,” he said. “But unless I see something to the contrary, this is a cut-and-dried thing, as far as I’m concerned.”
Peterson said a main concern would be more walleye harvest.
“It would have a reasonable expectation to increase the harvest of walleyes this season,” he said. And at a place like Lake Mille Lacs, for example, “that could result in the need for additional harvest restrictions later in the season.”
Dill said he’s received a fair amount of reaction to the proposal. Some resorters told him they don’t support the idea because they don’t plan to open before the traditional opener, which is the Saturday two weeks before Memorial Day weekend.
Others have said there won’t be enough bait available by May 5.
Dill’s reaction: “Who said we have to fish with bait?”
The bottom line, though, is that “Minnesotans have a constitutional right to hunt and fish,” he said. “When circumstances present themselves like they have, where we have almost a non-event of winter and then an early spring (the season should open early).”
Dill also notes moving the season ahead by a week this year would mean the opener doesn’t interfere with Mother’s Day.
As of earlier this week, several bills were awaiting hearing on the House and Senate floors, including game and fish bills.
Additionally, lawmakers were still strategizing about how to move fishing and hunting license fee increases forward. Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, has the increases in one of his bills – SF 1830 – that is set for floor action this week. The House hasn’t yet heard a fee-increase proposal.
“We’re putting a strategy together for how to bring the fee-increase bill to the floor,” Ingebrigtsen said Monday. “I’m talking with my counterparts in the House as we speak.” He expects the Senate to pass the proposal.
“This thing has been around in my caucus now for the past seven months and I’ve brought it up numerous times,” Ingebrigtsen said. “I’ve not had anyone come in and shut the door and say ‘I have heartburn about raising these fees.’ So I don’t know that it’s going to be as big a challenge in the Senate as it is in the House.”
Bob Meier, DNR legislative affairs director, said “it’s a good sign” that fee discussions still are going on.
Though floor votes on legislation to establish a wolf season in the state hadn’t yet been held earlier this week, it seems clear a hunting season will begin this fall on the same day the deer season opens.
“We’re comfortable with the language,” Meier said. But he added the agency would prefer the Legislature not set opening dates of future seasons at this time. “Forcing us by law to (open the season with deer season) every year could be” a problem.