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Talkin' Fishin' Column: Better fishing through better management

In my travels throughout the Midwest I get to fish in a lot of different places. Some of those places have pretty good fishing and some of them have great fishing opportunities, for both big fish and lots of fish. In some areas it is apparent that the fisheries need some tweaking. They need to do something to protect their fisheries from over-harvest. Some states, and some regions of states, have done an outstanding job of implementing regulations that have created outstanding fisheries. Others have resisted change, and it shows in the fishing available in those areas. Pretty much anywhere that progressive fishing regulations have been enacted, the fishing is substantially better than those areas that continue to resist regulation changes.

One regulation that has enhanced fisheries greatly is the slot limit. It used to be that fishery managers put a minimum length limit on bodies of water. For instance, there would be a fourteen inch minimum length limit on walleyes. That regulation almost guarantees lots of walleyes under fourteen inches. As soon as they reach the fourteen inch length, they're taken home.

Slot limits are different. Let's say the lake we're on has a release slot of seventeen to twenty five inches for walleyes. That means any walleye between seventeen and twenty five inches must be released immediately. You can keep a limit of eaters under the slot, and usually one over the slot. This concept has proven to be successful almost everywhere it's been implemented. You can catch fish for the pan, and you can also catch good numbers of big walleyes, but most of the big ones must be released.

The issue in some areas now is protecting panfish. In the Iowa Great Lakes region of Iowa, there is a call from some very knowledgeable anglers for a reduced limit on panfish. As it is now, there is no limit on crappies and bluegills in Iowa, and at some times of the year, these species get hammered. Buckets and buckets of these panfish are taken home, some to be eaten, others to be used for fertilizer under tomato plants, and many more to languish in freezers until they are deemed to be unsuitable for food. Many panfish are being wasted because of these liberal limits.

The folks who make these rules say that any additional regulations are "biologically unnecessary". The states that surround Iowa to the north, west, and east all have much stricter panfish regulations, and they also have much better panfishing. Why would stricter regulations for better fishing be unnecessary in Iowa, but needed in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin?

When perch limits were implemented on Lake Winnibigoshish in northern Minnesota, the folks up there were concerned about the impact on tourism. Just a few years after the implementation of tighter limits on perch in Winnie, the perch fishing is outstanding, for size and numbers. Best of all, anglers have determined they would rather catch more and bigger fish, even if they can't keep as many.

There's nothing wrong with keeping a few fish for the table. We just need to do so with respect for the resource, and progressive fishing regulations provide that respect.

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