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Looking back, 2012 open water season yielded quality fish

Water temperatures on area lakes are down to the mid to low 40 degrees. It will only two to three weeks now until the end of our open water season and the start of the hard water season. Some anglers start to get very excited as the ice fishing season approaches. I experience a greater sense of loss of local open water activity than I do my excitement for the upcoming ice season.

As we get closer to this transition, it has caused me to reflect on the open water season that is coming to a close. This season has been very good for most anglers. I believe the catch rates and quality of fish was defiantly above average this year. We did have to contend with some extremely hot and dry weather, but the fish activity continued even through some challenging weather situations.

Is this because of better resource management? Are equipment, electronics, and the addition of lake mapping helping anglers increase catch rates? Are anglers becoming more knowledgeable and adapting to seasonal changes, weather conditions, and forage transitions more efficiently? All factors might be part of the equation. I also think that some years are just better than others due to forage base, weather, and strength of year classes because of previous years spawn success. I have no doubt the DNR stocking programs are making a big difference also. I would also like to believe we are getting increasing "buy in" to "selective harvest" and "catch and release" concepts.

Stocking programs and size limits and restrictions have not only made a noticeable difference on lakes like Winni, Leech, Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods, and Red, but also on area lakes like Lida, Big and Little Pine and Big Sand. I believe all our lakes could benefit by going to restrictions that are working on selected lakes. The data is out on test lakes for walleyes, musky, northern pike, large and smallmouth bass, and crappie. Statewide standards that work with only a few "selected for test management" lakes makes more sense to me than the 250 lakes under special regulation we have currently (that also doesn't include stream and river special regulations).

It can be overwhelming for visitors to our state to review our regulations book. I have received many comments from veteran anglers from other states that question why our regulations have become so complex. I think it has even become a challenge and frustration for many fishermen in our own state to stay on top of all the special lake regulations. I understand the desire to manage our resource well and commend our DNR for the difficult job they do. I just ask the questions, "Have we reached the point that maybe we are over managing or trying to micro manage the resource" and "How did we get to the situation that we have 250 lakes under special regulation?"

I hope those in charge of management practices look to implementation of what works to set standards for all lakes. Let's get back to simplifying limits and restrictions. I believe we would have better compliance for regulations by anglers. Time and money spent educating and encouraging catch and release and selective harvest practices will pay great dividends in truly helping the public be a part of managing our fisheries. It is too big a task to have all the responsibility for management and enforcement fall on a state or government agency.

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)