Fishing in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

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Fishing has been a staple in Minnesota since as long as one can remember, due to the large amount of lakes, 11,842 to be precise ("Lakes, Rivers, and Wetlands Facts"). There are over 40 lakes within 20 miles of Park Rapids with various species of fish ("Hubbard County Minnesota Lakes - Park Rapids Lakes Fishing").  The fact that most of these lakes don’t have a selective harvest keeps Park Rapids from reaching its full potential economically. Many people travel 2 or more hours to get to Red Lake or Lake of the Woods to fish because the selective harvest put on the lakes has increased the fish population. But these areas are protected by Wetland Laws that keeps them from building on the land and developing recreational activities (Dokken). Unlike the Park Rapids area, which has golf courses, restaurants, hotels and movie theaters to entertain people when the fish aren’t biting.


Many people like to fish, but not all day long. Having amenities such as the ones in Park Rapids, attracts many people the way it is. If great fishing was added to that list, a whole new population of tourism would come as well. The local business’ make quite a bit of money in the summer, but the opportunity to make more is one simple law away from them doing so, by putting a selective harvest on the fish. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) already protects the walleyes by allowing you to only keep 4 walleyes per day with a possession limit of 6 walleyes, per person ("Adjust regulations"). This helps by not letting anglers go out and keep as many fish as they want, but it does not help with the size they keep.


Most people I have talked to about adding a selective harvest are unfamiliar with the subject unless they have been to Red Lake, Minnesota or to the Rainy River in Minnesota. A selective harvest means that people cannot keep just anything they catch. For example, Red Lake’s slot size right now on walleye is three fish per person under seventeen inches or two fish under seventeen inches and one of any size ("Red Lake Ice Fishing - Upper Red Ice House Rentals - Fishing Reports - Red Lake, Minnesota"). What this does is allows the fish over seventeen inches to have a better chance of being released and lay eggs in the spring. There is also a selective harvest on northern pike on Red Lake as well. This is not just to allow the population of fish to grow but is also there to increase the number of trophy northerns in the lake. The slot on northerns is twenty-six to forty-four inch northerns must be released, but you can keep three under twenty-six inches with one over forty-four inches ("Red Lake Ice Fishing . . . Minnesota"). Just like most fish, the bigger the fish the more eggs it lays. By allowing the bigger fish to be released and lay eggs the fish population grows greatly.


Another way to create a larger fish population is to stock the lakes with fry, which is tiny fish about the size of a mosquito that they put in lakes in hopes of reaching at least 14 inches within 3 years of being released ("Stock Fish"). The only problem with this is that it can be very expensive to do. Red Lake had three major stocking events in 1999, 2001, and 2003 (Dokken, Brad). Each of these events was estimated to have cost $68,000 (“Red Lake Restocking Efforts”). It could be a possibility, but it would be very hard to come up with that amount of money in one community the size of Park Rapids. We believe the best way to acquire better fishing is to put a selective harvest on the fish.


We sat down with Hendri Ernst, owner of Smokey Hills Outdoor Store, the second largest dealer of Ice Castle Fish Houses, and asked him for his opinion on a selective harvest around Park Rapids. While talking to him he said:
I believe a selective harvest could make a big impact on the economy. It has to be researched and done correctly according to each lake. But if everything is done well and the selective harvest works, we could see a lot more sales and a new population of tourism. This would help out with selling bait, fishing supplies, and possibly more Ice Castle Fish Houses as well. This would be in the winter as well as summer. Once again, it has to be researched and done correctly but could make a big impact on the economy. (Ernst, Hendri)


In order to get people to come back to Park Rapids for fishing, we must first give them a great fishing experience. There are many different ways to get a great fishing experience; from paying a guide to take you out, to traveling to the best lake, or by researching different ways to catch the fish you are after. I would say most people travel to the best lake in order to catch fish. I believe that the Park Rapids Area in Minnesota could be one of the best fishing destinations by adding a selective harvest to its lakes.


Some lakes and rivers such as Red Lake or the Rainy River have selective harvests (“Adjusted Regulations”). The Rainy River established a selective harvest in 1994 to try and recover from being overfished ("Spring Walleye Assessment on the Rainy River: Minnesota DNR"). Since then, the walleye population has recovered greatly and allowed people to fish for trophy fish while also keeping some good eaters. The average catch has increased from one walleye every four and a half hours to one every one and a half hours (“Adjusted Regulations”). This is just one of many success stories that Minnesota has had with selective harvests.


If we put a selective harvest on the lakes around Park Rapids, we could increase the amount of fish in each lake. By doing this more and more anglers will come to Park Rapids when they hear about the great fishing. Red Lake and Lake of the Woods has people from all over Minnesota come up to fish for walleyes. A lot of those people are from Minneapolis, St. Paul, or suburbs of the Twin Cities. In order to get to Red Lake a lot of these people will travel through Park Rapids anyway, so why don’t they stop? Because the fishing in the Park Rapids area is not as good as Red Lake or Lake of the Woods.


The first step in implementing a selective harvest is to get the DNR on board with the idea. They would have to do research on the lakes with the technology they have now as well as research that has been done in the past on lakes with a selective harvest. It will not cost any money to implement the selective harvest but may cost some money to do the researching which could be provided by the state. Then the law would have to be passed by the state of Minnesota. Lastly, it would have to be announced to the public through newspapers, social media, and signs near public accesses. Another way to let people know would be to have signs on the highways once you enter the selective harvest zones, these could be made by the art program at Park Rapids Area High School for minimizing costs.


The selective harvest would not only affect our environment, but could also give Park Rapids a big economic push as well. The resorts on Red Lake charge anywhere from ten to fifteen dollars to go out of their accesses during the winter due to the fact that they have plows make roads for vehicles to drive on (“Red Lake . . . Minnesota”). The bait shops are full almost all day long, selling bait and groceries. Plus, the motels get full on weekends. Park Rapids has three bait shops that have people come in every now and then to buy bait during the week and only get a little busier on the weekends. We also have three grocery stores that are fairly busy, but could be a lot busier with more fisherman around all year. The hotels in Park Rapids are usually open for more people to come stay, but with people coming to fish they could fill up and get extra money as well. Lastly, most resorts around Park Rapids are closed all winter, which means they make all their money in the summer. Although, if the fishing around Park Rapids got better, resorts could charge money for people to go out of their accesses in the winter and make some extra cash.

 

Overall, there are many more positives to adding a selective harvest than there are negatives. One of the few negatives would be an increase in pollution around the lakes, but as long as everybody is responsible and cleans up after themselves there wouldn’t be any problems. The outcome of a selective harvest would be an increase in economic growth for Park Rapids and also an increase in the amount of fish in the lakes. This would help out the local businesses and also help the fishermen to catch more fish.






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