Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Federation wants early C&R largemouth season

Associate Editor

Champlin, Minn. Where do bass anglers and bass tournaments go
early in the spring, when bass season isn’t yet open in Minnesota?
Across the border to Wisconsin, says the conservation director of
Minnesota’s Bass Federation.

Vern Wagner, of Champlin, says as conservation director of the
federation, he’d like to see an early catch-and-release largemouth
bass season, for just a few specific lakes, which would begin
shortly after ice-out and last until the catch-and-keep season gets
under way.

“I want to revisit the issue of a conservation season,’ ” Wagner
said last week, reiterating a proposal he brought to the Fishing
Roundtable in St. Cloud just a few weeks ago.

The idea, he said, is for the state DNR to identify a list of 10
to 12 lakes where largemouth are abundant and there’s a good
history of fry and fingerling production. On those lakes,
catch-and-release largemouth bass fishing would be allowed prior to
spawn, sometime right after ice-out. The lakes would be subject to
DNR experimental regulations and the effect of the regs would be
reviewed periodically.

Tournaments held early in the year on those lakes would be
“paper” tournaments in which competing anglers would fish from the
same boat, and measure one another’s fish.

If not shortly after ice-out, the early catch-and-release season
could at least begin when the northern pike and walleye seasons
open, Wagner said.

“I think the time has come for this idea,” he said.

The Minnesota Bass Federation is a state club, but is “connected
to” BASS, the national organization, Wagner said. There are 45 Bass
Federation chapters in Minnesota, with a total membership around
600. As state conservation director, his duties include improving
bass fishing in his state, Wagner added.

Wagner said his early bass season begins in Missouri, moves
north to Iowa, then to Wisconsin, before coming to Minnesota. Those
lakes in Wisconsin are similar to some in Minnesota where state
anglers should be allowed to fish, he said.

Last year, while Minnesota’s bass season on most waters opened
May 24, the Southern Zone in Wisconsin (south of a diagonal line
with Hayward, Wis., as the northernmost point), opened May 3. In
Wisconsin’s Northern Zone, a catch-and-release season opened May 3;
a catch-and-keep season didn’t begin until June 21.

Opponents to the Bass Federation proposal say pulling bass from
their spawning beds could be detrimental to the population. They
say beds can be invaded mere minutes after the bass leaves (or is
pulled) from the bed.

“I’m not averse to the proposal, but we need to find out where
the fish are on spawning beds,” said Burt Scripture, former
president of Brainerd-based Northerns, Inc.

Wagner said recent research from Manitoba has indicated that
beds get raided if bass are pulled from them during the spawning
season.

However, “(the bass season) has been opening during the spawn
for many years, and the population just keeps getting better,” he
said. “It’s more of a social issue; it’s a perception. The people
who have commented negative are walleye fishermen who are applying
walleye research to bass.”

At the roundtable, Wagner said he did not receive comment either
way from DNR officials. Still, he hopes to take the proposal to the
DNR, to be part of that agency’s proposed legislative package. If
not, Wagner said he may seek a legislative sponsor for a bill, but
would prefer the DNR route.

“I’d like to get some public hearings in 2004, with
implementation in 2005,” he says.

At this point, DNR officials say they won’t include such a
proposal in the legislative package this session.

“We’re past that time frame,” Ron Payer, DNR Fisheries Section
chief said this week. “But we’re willing to sit down and talk to
(Wagner) about the proposal.”

Payer said several years ago the issue was brought up and drew a
mix of opinions from the angling public.

“There are still a lot of questions that need to be asked, and
we’ll need to have some internal discussions,” Payer said.

Beyond the largemouth bass requirement, Wagner said other lake
characteristics would vary.

“Lake Minnetonka comes to mind,” he said.

Wagner said the proposal would not “involve smallmouth bass in
any way.”

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