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Brad Laabs: 50 netted in fish poaching sting; thousands of fish taken

By now many of you have heard of the sting operation “square hook.” I am writing about this because I am surprised by the number of people I have talked to recently that were unaware of this situation. This sting operation was the cooperative effort by the state law enforcement, tribal law enforcement, and our DNR. Arrests were made of 50 individuals involved in a poaching operation that had netted and sold tens of thousands of walleyes over the last couple of years. A few of our premier walleye fisheries were the targets of these poachers. Most of the walleyes were harvested from Winni and Leech Lake, but fish from Red and Cass lakes were also poached. Most of the eating size walleyes came off Winni while most of the larger fish, including many trophy size walleyes, came off of Leech Lake.

Some of the individuals that were a part of this illegal activity were tribal members, but most were not. The names of those involved is a matter of public record now, and most of these individuals were in their 40s and 50s. They were old enough to know better. I believe this kind of operation was probably going on for some time. I am glad we have good cooperation between agencies that are committed to stopping this kind of activity that is raping our state’s resources. I hope these prosecutions send a clear message to others involved in these kind of activities that it is time to stop.

Most of us are committed to good conservation values and follow the rules. It is angering to know that there are those out there that are so selfish and disrespectful of others and our natural resources. For people involved in poaching like this, it is all about the money with no consideration for the consequences to the future of our fisheries. The DNR is unsure of the impact at this time on the lakes involved. We all know when you harvest tens of thousands of walleyes illegally from a few lakes it will significantly impact the fisheries.

Other fish were also taken illegally, including northern pike and musky. Many of these fish were also of trophy size. Trophy musky were sold as mounts. Many of the northern pike and musky were just discarded and wasted. The sting was called “square hook” because nets were being used in this poaching operation. If you are aware of any poaching activities please call the TIP line. Enough for now on this frustrating subject!

Last weekend was the opener for Big Stone Lake. It was held as an ice fishing event! The latest open water date for Big Stone had been April 26. This year locals are not sure if the lake will be ice free by the first weekend in May! There are two major tournaments scheduled for the next two weekends on that body of water, and it is not looking good for those events to happen. We may have a limited number of lakes with open water in our area by the May 11 “opener” date. Conditions need to change quickly! We need lots of sunshine, warm days, warm nights, wind, and some good rains in the next two weeks. Start praying! This unusual spring will cause some stress to the many businesses that plan and provide service to the special Minnesota holiday we call “opener.” Next week we will talk about plans and strategies for the opener.

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