Do we really need an opener?

Tim LesmeisterThe Minnesota Fishing Opener is just a few days away, on May 12. Wisconsin opened last weekend. This just allows Minnesotans to fish for pike and walleyes. Bass is still closed for a couple of weeks. Yet Wisconsin opens the bass season the same weekend as pike and bass. In South Dakota there is no fishing opener and with the exception of the Iowa Great Lakes everything is open year around in that state.

So why even have a fishing opener? To protect the spawners? I don’t get that. If the DNR wanted to protect spawners it wouldn’t allow the tribes to drop nets in during the spawning period. This doesn’t just happen on Mille Lacs. Tribes all over the state gill net spawning walleyes on Vermilion, Leech, Winnibigoshish. Allowing tribal netting during the spawn doesn’t protect the spawning walleyes; does it?

Does protecting the spawning walleyes, pike and bass even matter? The fisheries in Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas don’t seem to be hindered at all by the seasons starting early or not existing at all. It’s unlikely the bass are done spawning in Wisconsin prior to their opener. In fact, the bass are probably pre-spawn and easy to catch when the Wisconsin season opens.

So why even have an opener? My guess it might be due to tradition. I think the biologists in the past likely thought it a good idea to keep anglers from harvesting spawning fish to improve the hatch and the year class. Now it seems to make more sense to keep the best spawners in the system by incorporating slot limits and release the sizes that provide the best spawning outcome. Why not keep the season open year around and set up statewide slots to make sure the year class stays healthy by keeping the best spawners in the system?

Some might think the fishing season is good for resorts and vacation destinations; but is it really? With the early ice out Minnesota had this year resorts may have filled up much sooner had anglers been able to chase their favorite gamefish. Look at the resorts on the Rainy River. When that early walleye season begins, the resorts get business.

And doesn’t the late opener in Minnesota drive anglers to spend their money in neighboring states? Sure it does. There are plenty of anglers making the pilgrimage to neighboring states to get in on the great fishing there because they can’t have that luxury in a state with a closed season. Think of all that money that is leaving the state and ending up in the general funds of those neighboring territories. This year I spent ten days in Iowa and Missouri fishing. These states must really appreciate Minnesota’s opener.

I hate to recommend this but I think we need a study to see if having an opener really affects a fishery. I also think we need an economic impact statement to see how much it costs the state. Then we need to look closely to see if we really need an opener in Minnesota. At least if there is going to be an opener make it the same weekend as Wisconsin and open the bass season too. Set up slot limits and catch-and-release periods to protect the fish population. If it were up to my wife, the person that set up the opener on Mother’s Day would be tarred and feathered. That’s probably the best reason to end or at least modify the opener starting date.

Categories: Tim Lesmeister

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