Tourney rule changes?

Associate Editor

St. Paul Members of a fishing coalition in Minnesota say they
have concerns about possible changes or clarifications to rules
that govern some fishing tournaments in the state. At least, they
say, they’d like to be part of the process that formulates
decisions on tourney rules.

Members of the Minnesota Sport Fishing Coalition say the DNR is
contemplating changes that could potentially put a percentage on
the number of “tournament” boats at public accesses. And, they say,
the department is considering making tournament organizers
responsible for checking tournament boats for exotic species.

Not only would this be an added expense, coalition members say,
but certain aspects would be nearly unenforceable and could lead to
tournaments that choose to “run under the radar.”

“What we’d like to do this time is take the same approach (as
more than five years ago when tournament regs underwent a
facelift),” said Joel Stokka, of Walker, chair of the new Minnesota
Sport Fishing Coalition. At that time, he said, fishing groups were
part of a committee that formed a proposal with the DNR that
eventually was passed by the 2000 state Legislature.

Ron Payer, DNR fisheries management section chief, said
clarifications to tournament policy will be part of a larger
package of fish and wildlife proposals, expected to be put forward
for public comment in February.

One clarification, according to Payer, includes tournament
weigh-in rules, including what’s allowed on-site or off-site.

“We need to be clear, by rule, what standards we’re using to
grant or deny (permit) requests,” he said.

Payer said the DNR does have concerns about the spread of exotic
species when tourneys are held on water bodies known to be infested
with exotics. Public access issues also will be addressed, he

“Many of these things are unclear right now, and need some
clearing up,” he said.

In the meantime, Payer said the agency is open to discussing
possible changes with members of the coalition.

Stokka and fellow coalition member Vern Wagner, who also serves
as conservation director for the Minnesota BASS Federation, say the
rules that were implemented in 2001 have done a good job of
addressing concerns including conflicts with other anglers
associated with fishing tournaments.

“The field offices in Minnesota have had few, if any,
complaints,” Stokka said.

Payer agreed that changes made about five years ago have helped
alleviate tournament-related complaints in the state.

“Right after the legislation passed, there was a huge decrease
in complaints,” he said. Payer said that prior to the changes,
tournament complaints received steady attention from the agency.
Coupled with the legislation were voluntary efforts by tournament
organizers to reduce conflicts.

Recently there have been concerns raised about competition
between tourneys on some lakes, as well as off-site weigh-ins, that
have prompted the agency to revisit tournament rules.

Currently there are about 500 DNR-permitted angling tournaments
both ice and open-water in Minnesota.

Wagner said there’s other “tweaking” the DNR is considering,
including making permits exclusive to certain areas of multi-basin

“We’re not opposed to changes; there are always ways to
improve,” Wagner said. “But we’re saying, let’s sit down, roll up
our sleeves, and figure it out.'”

In most cases, fishing tournament permits in Minnesota are
approved by the regional fisheries manager. Permit applications for
the following year are accepted beginning Sept. 1, and if the
number of applicants exceeds what is allowed, a drawing is held.
Monthly limits for Minnesota lakes include:

Lakes less than 2,000 acres, two permitted contests per month,
with no “large” permitted contests (50 boats or 100 participants),
and a maximum of four fishing contest days;

Lakes 2,000 to 4,999 acres, three contests, one large contest,
and six fishing days;

Lakes of 5,000 to 14,999 acres, four contests, no more than two
large contests, and no more than eight total fishing days;

Lakes 15,000 to 55,000 acres, five fishing contests, three large
contests, and no more than 10 fishing days;

Lakes larger than 55,000 acres, no limit on contests or total
fishing contest days.

The DNR also has limits on weekend usage, though Wagner said
most tournaments are held during the week. Other restrictions may
be placed depending on fish species targeted, hours of the event,
and weigh-in rules. The DNR web site ( includes
all rules regarding fishing tournaments in the state.

Stokka said the coalition is a relatively new group that’s still
adding members. Besides tournament officials, the group hopes to
add lake association members and any other groups in the state
concerned about Minnesota’s waters and fishing.

Stokka said the coalition would attempt to bring its proposal
regarding talked-about changes to the DNR in March or April for its

Once the DNR unveils its list of items for comment in February,
there’s a 90-day comment period, followed by DNR review of the
comments and development of rules language. At that point, the
public will get another look at the proposal, which will include a
number of items, which could range from mussel harvest to a repeal
of the no-harvest rule for Red Lake walleyes.

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