When I was a kid growing up in Duluth, we often went fishing at Fish Lake, a Minnesota Power reservoir located just outside of town. Usually we went after walleyes, catching northern pike and occasional crappies as well. It was the sort of lake where you rarely knocked 'em dead, but usually caught enough fish for a meal or two.
This was back when the average fishing boat had bench seats and a 10-horse outboard motor. In those days, nobody carried a ruler to measure their fish. Instead, they "guess-timated" the weight. As I recall, the vast majority of Fish Lake walleyes were two pounds or less, with an occasional three-pounder in the mix. The average-sized walleyes were big enough to satisfy most everyone's expectations. If you wanted to catch bigger ones there were plenty of other, better lakes in the Arrowhead to fish for them.
That's why I was initially surprised to hear the Legislature was ordering the DNR to come up with a harvest restriction specifically for Fish Lake with intention of creating a trophy walleye fishery. My surprise rapidly turned to dismay, as we-the-people learned from the media that the walleye decree was instigated by Fish Lake cabin owner and wannabe celebrity angler Sen. Satveer Chaudhary. Sen. Chaudhary whispered in the ear of Rep. David Dill in the waning hours of the Session to insert the language into the House version of the Game and Fish Omnibus Bill-a legislative catch-all bill for hunting and fishing issues.
As reporters unveiled the ugly truth-that a state senator was manipulating House legislation to change fishing rules on a lake where he owned a cabin-Chaudhary and Dill started spewing excuses and apologies like two little boys caught doing something naughty. But the ugly truth continued to grow. We soon learned the Fish Lake decree was the tip of the iceberg in a Game and Fish Omnibus Bill overloaded with self-serving measures and half-baked public policy. The bill is so bad that one DNR official went on record calling it the worst legislation he'd seen. So bad Star-Tribune outdoor columnist Dennis Anderson urged the governor to veto it.
If you have been wondering why Minnesota seems to be leading the race to the bottom in education and a host of state-provided functions and services, why the state budget is billions in the hole and going deeper, and why our duly elected cannot get their work done on time, behold the Game and Fish Omnibus Bill. If this piece of...ahmm...legislation is a reflection of the Legislature as a whole, fellow Minnesotans, we are in a world of hurt.
We can start with Chaudhary's Fish Lake fiasco and ask with a simple question: Why is the Legislature writing fish rules for one fish species on just one lake? Does this august body intend to do this 10,000 times? More to the point, since when are the likes of Chaudhary and Dill professional fisheries biologists? They're not. However, Chaudhary attempts to force-feed his bar stool biology on Minnesota anglers every session, trying to pass statewide minimum size limits on walleyes and similar nonsense likely to elicit no more than a groan and roll of the eyes from fisheries professionals such as the ones the DNR hires to manage our lakes.
But it gets better. Perhaps the most bizarre law within the omnibus bill is one allowing anglers to fish with two lines-long forbidden on inland waters-during the open water season. We won't debate the rights and wrongs of fishing with two lines, but instead look at the mechanics of the rule. In order to fish with two lines, you'll need a purchase an extra $10 endorsement on your fishing license and agree to keep no more than one half the legal bag limit of fish, whether you are using two lines or not. You might ask who in their right mind would spend an extra 10 bucks to catch half as many fish? Or you might ask how a casual angler or a nonresident would ever understand this rule? But what you should really ask how did such a poorly crafted law ever made it through the Legislature?
Road hunters, a favorite constituency of Rep. Dill, now must step 10 feet away from their ATV or vehicle before they swat a grouse. This distance-from-the-vehicle rule was begun by former DNR Commissioner Rod Sandoz, later abolished by Dill, and is now being reinstituted after widespread complaints about rampant road-hunting after the Legislature allowed uncased guns in vehicles last year. Of course, repealing the uncased gun law would make more sense, but then certain legislators would have admit to making a mistake. Instead, you can now cruise Minnesota back roads with your gun in one hand and your cartridges in the other, make two quick steps away from your vehicle and blaze away. Of course, don't forget to wear your seatbelt. The same Legislature made not wearing a seatbelt a criminal offense last year.
Are you still wondering why the Legislature can't balance a budget? Check out the financial wizardry buried in the omnibus bill. Beginning next year, 16- and 17-year-olds can fish without a license, a privilege that currently stops at age 15. The new freebie will cost the DNR over a half million dollars annually in lost license fees and matching federal funding. One might argue a 16-year-old is old enough to get a job and drive a car, and that purchasing a fishing license is actually an inexpensive lesson in civic responsibility, but such logic won't get you very far at the Capitol. It might be better to wonder what’s next, perhaps allowing kids to drive without a license until they turn 18?
The fiscal foolishness doesn't stop there. Also in the bill is an unfunded mandate to start a walk-in hunting program costing $1.4 million and limited to the pheasant country of southwestern Minnesota. Again, we won't debate the merits of a walk-in program. However, we will mention that southwestern Minnesota pheasant hunters are a minority of hunting license buyers and the new initiative is to be funded from existing hunting license fees. One might ask why deer, grouse and bear hunters statewide are paying for pheasant hunting access in one corner of the state?
But the fun never stops in this bill. It also allows bow hunters for deer to carry handguns. (Hey, you never know when Bambi might attack.) It removes the 16-foot deer stand height restriction for hunters on private lands. (Evidently, our duly elected don't hunt on public land.) It even reinstitutes the archaic bounty system, allowing counties and townships to pay a bounty on coyotes, restoring a 19th-century practice proven decades ago to be ineffective for predator control and prone to fraudulent bounty claims.
But stepping backward by a century or more is apparently par for the course with the Minnesota Legislature. Pioneer Press outdoor writer Chris Niskanen recently reported on new rules banning fishing from shore on certain waters in Anoka and Kandiyohi counties, ostensibly to protect spawning bass and crappies. He reports DNR professionals say the fish populations aren't threatened by angling. Instead, the ban seems to target Asian and Hispanic anglers who fish from shore in the areas to be closed.
Are you still wondering why the Legislature can't get its real work done? The really ugly truth is they've gone fishing with Jim Crow.
By Shawn Perich