By Brad Durick
Please allow me to introduce myself and where I come from. I grew up in Western North Dakota and have lived in the state all my life. I hunted birds with my friends in high school but not seriously. I started fishing in the summer of 1997. I tagged along with friends to the lake and now five years later have more fishing equipment and gadgets than your average person.
Before I bring up my point for writing this essay I do want to make it very clear that I am not some raging environmentalist. I am a fisherman who loves the outdoors and wants to have the great fishing that I have become accustomed to, to remain for many years to come. Also, the thoughts that I am going to bring forth are only my take on the issues and the way that I see them.
WHY I THINK THIS IS AN ISSUE
The reason that I am even sitting in front of my computer writing this is because I have noticed a complete lack of respect for the most valuable resource in our lakes, THE FISH.
I started noticing this last spring while fishing "Channel A" on Devilís Lake before ice out. I was watching people catching and keeping very large northerns and a few large walleyes. On this particular day there was probably about 100 people fishing in a channel that is only 200 feet wide and 250 feet long. Everywhere you looked the fish were biting. What a great time to bring your kids out and show them the great enjoyment that fishing has to offer. You could stand on the shore and catch a fish on about anything you threw at them. That day goes into my memory as one of the best fishing days I have ever experienced in my short fishing history.
This is where my attention was grabbed on respecting the fish. I canít even begin to say how many large fish were taken as eaters. It seems that everyone around me had a stringer full of northerns ranging from 3 to 12 pounds. I know that these fish were in the middle of spawning and only doing what they knew best. My point is that day alone there was hundreds of millions of Pike killed because people did not respect the resource of the larger fish enough to release fish that hadnít spawned yet and were only concerned about filling their freezer.
The next time this whole thought came to my mind was in late June. I was fishing with my regular fishing partner and my dad on the Minnewauken Flats of Devilís Lake. We had been fishing all day and caught more walleyes and pike than we could keep track of. We had managed to catch a couple of five and six-pound fish during the day and decided that for reproductive purposed that they would be better released.
At the end of the day while at the cleaning house a man walked up to us and explained that his fish were better than ours. (Our average fish was about 15".) The man and his son proceeded to bring a legal limit of walleyes to the cleaning table. Two of the fish were about 14" and the rest were between five and eight pounds. I told the guy that I was disgusted with the fact that the future of the lake depended on him and others releasing those larger fish. All he told me was to mind my own business. He said he was there to catch fish and there was no law saying that he couldnít keep what ever he wanted.
My last example of why this issue is bothers me is from Lake Darling in western North Dakota. In the summer of 2000 catching a limit of nice eater walleyes was an easy task. If you ever read fishingbuddy you could see that the fishing was spectacular. This past summer the reports were that there were no fish. North Dakota Game and Fish did some investigating and found out that indeed there were no larger fish only small ones. Apparently the breeding stock had for the most part been fished out. It is expected that the walleyes on Lake Darling will take three to five years to recover and produce any size.
Lets take a minute to go back to Channel A. I love the first fishing of the year. You have been locked up for months and the only break is ice fishing, which is just not the same as open water fishing.
I feel that if people canít respect the fish by releasing them then maybe we need some new regulation. I would be perfectly happy with either imposing an early season limit of some sort. Perhaps only one northern and one walleye per day until May 15th. Or maybe put an early season size limit on the fish to protect the spawning fish. Maybe a size limit of three pounds or smaller on pike and a 17 inches or below limit on walleyes. If it comes right down to it and I pray that it doesnít, close the season and go back to the old opening weekend to kick things off.
I do feel very strongly that North Dakota needs to enact a slot limit on walleyes. I think they should only allow one fish per day to be taken over 24" and on the smaller lakes only one over 20". This will ensure that we have breeding stock to preserve the super fishing that we all have come to love.
My last thought is for the perch. I love catching that jumbo perch on the hard lake. I also think the limits should be lowered again for the winter only to 20 per day. I feel that if this is not done we will soon have lakes full of small perch and the interest in ice fishing will dwindle. This would be a shame because for some of us ice fishing is the only outdoor recreation we get in the winter other than shoveling snow.
I have a bad feeling that even with the new daily limit of 50 small lakes such as Darling and Laretta will be fished out in the next couple of years. South Dakota just enacted a 10 per day limit on small lakes to find out if the population can sustain the fishing pressure. Maybe North Dakota should look at something like that for small lakes and leave Devils and the other large lakes alone.
I beg each and every person that reads this article to stop and think about the few examples that I have given and some of the solutions that I think should be enacted. The next time you are fishing think for the future of the resource and let some of the fish go or just keep only what you can eat. Most importantly donít ever forget that fishing is fun.