Fishing near docks? Know the state’s rules

St. Paul — If you care to see what kinds of confrontations can develop between shoreline anglers and lakeshore property owners, just search YouTube.com. There’s no shortage of examples: an angler casting close to a dock, a dock owner offended by the proximity of the angler to his or her property, a shouting match.

Who’s right?

In most cases in Minnesota, the angler is doing what’s legally allowed, but the “right” of the matter depends on whether you’re standing on the dock or pitching a jig or other lure toward it.

As president of Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation, Peter Perovich has witnessed or heard about his share of disputes between lakeshore property owners and those who fish around things such as private docks and boat lifts – even rafts in some cases.

“We’ve had some extreme things happen at our events,” said Perovich, who said the organization has seven major events (tournaments) and nearly 200 club events across Minnesota each year.

During a large fishing event on Lake Vermilion – an event that included fishers from eight states – an angered lakeshore property owner shot a gun toward one of the participants, he said. He’s also fielded several email and phone threats from property owners.

If B.A.S.S. Nation tourney participants encounter an agitated property owner while fishing near his or her dock or other extension into a lake, Perovich said the organization’s advice is simple: Go somewhere else.

“We have always told our anglers not to get in a confrontation,” he said. “If a landowner complains, reel up and leave. It’s just not worth it.”

That’s the guideline, even though the angler most likely is fishing legally.

According to the DNR and state law, docks are private property; the water around them is not.

Patricia Watts, policy and legal analyst for Minnesota DNR Enforcement, provided this statute interpretation to Outdoor News:

“Docks are private property that extend from private property into public waters. It is generally lawful to fish public waters near docks, but it is not lawful to obstruct navigation. It would not be lawful to disturb or interfere with a person that is lawfully taking or preparing to take a wild animal – including fish.”

Perovich, who owns lakeshore property in northern Minnesota, said he knows the concerns of those whose docks and boats are in locations favored by bass anglers and those chasing other fish species. Fish like the habitat (shade during the hot months) that such structure provides, and anglers gravitate to those locations.

“From a homeowner’s standpoint, I can understand,” Perovich said, mentioning the always-possible bouncing of fishing lures off of a landowner’s watercraft, or the catching of lures on boat lift canopies.

He said B.A.S.S. Nation anglers are offered a few other guidelines that pertain to fishing around private docks and lifts.

“If people are fishing from a dock, don’t fish near that dock,” Perovich said, adding that that’s good advice for any angler who wishes for fishermen and women to be viewed in a favorable light.

If there is a confrontation between angler and homeowner during a B.A.S.S. Nation event, Perovich said he asks that it be reported right away by the angler involved. That way, he said, other tournament participants will be told to steer clear of that particular area.

Seldom do matters escalate to a point where law enforcement needs to become involved, Perovich said, but it does happen.

“If we have that level of an issue, we’ll usually call the county sheriff,” he said. “Or we’ll call 911 and the dispatcher will know who to contact.”

Sometimes the contact is the DNR, sometimes county officials, or some other form of water patrol, he said.

DNR Enforcement officials say  there have been just 18 cases of charges brought for angler or hunter harassment since 2015, most of them hunting-related.

Perovich said he believes the best way to avoid confrontations between anglers and property owners is for both to understand state law and mutual responsibilities. Lake associations, he said, could be helpful in explaining to property owners the rights of public-waters anglers. And anglers, who might be in the right, legally, should understand it’s in their best interest to be examples of conscientious fishers when doing their thing around private property.

“The biggest thing is, we want (lakeshore) homeowners to know we (anglers) don’t mean any harm; we don’t intend to mess up your docks,” Perovich said. “We’re just fishing.”

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