Bass season, in Minnesota, opens this weekend. It's a complete sham. People in other states often wonder, out loud, in my direction, "What's wrong with Minnesota?" Plenty, when it comes to fishing regulations.
First, let's be clear: When it comes to states and the question: "What's wrong with...?" the subject is most often "Texas," according to Google. You can make out your own reasons for that.
But Minnesota does have some restrictive fishing regulations. For instance, walleye and pike seasons opened about 11 days ago. The difference between pike, walleye, and bass lures and tackle can be as minimal as you want to make them. In other words, those "in the know" have been bass fishing for almost two weeks. The other day, while fishing for bluegills, I watched no less than 5 anglers in other boats pitching spinnerbaits into wood cover in areas that haven't held a walleye in the 20 years I've been fishing there. The occasional big pike will haunt those laydowns, but none of these guys had steel leaders on. And the likelihood of catching a big, pre-spawn bass in that woody cover is probably 90% better than the odds of catching a worthwhile toothy critter.
My qualms aren't with the bass fishermen. More power to them. The problem stems from making people pretend and look over their shoulders for conservation officers who are powerless to stop them, anyway. Any legal challenge would get the case thrown out of court because nobody can prove that spinnerbait wasn't meant for a pike, or that the suspending bait that catches a smallmouth before the season opens wasn't meant for the walleyes hanging out nearby. So it's a goofy reg in a state full of goofy bass regulations that make us put spinner blades on wire leaders, fish with only one rod at a time, and I wouldn't be surprised to get a ticket for standing on one foot while setting a hook.
Studies over time in Michigan and elsewhere show that catch-and-release fishing during pre-spawn and even during the spawn has no apparent effect on bass populations. Early catch-and-release seasons open much earlier in neighboring Wisconsin, and to our West, North and South Dakota have no closed seasons at all for bass. (I might suggest that they mimic Wisconsin, however, and institute catch-and-release seasons during the spawn, but they have far less pressure on bass than we do in Minnesota, and the pressure here is far less than in Southern states.)
I tend to be opposed to anything that limits habitat for fish (like pollution, mountain-top-removal mining, altering shorelines, removing weeds, etc.). But I'm also opposed to anything that limits participation. Within reason. If participation hurts fish populations, I'm against it — but the proof should be solid. We have no real proof at all that opening the bass season on Memorial Day weekend every year is protecting the fish any better than opening it to catch-and-release from the close of the season to Memorial Day.
Limiting participation in this way costs the fishing industry thousands if not millions in sales of lures, bait, and line every year without improving the resource a bit. But that's not the worst threat regulations create. Average, everyday families that just want to enjoy the outdoors are about to be hit with another threat to their recreational endeavors. Minnesota is set to double fines against anglers caught with a weed on their trailer, a plug left in their boat, or any water left in their livewell while the boat is being trailered on July 1, 2012. This is a regressive tax and unjust penalty against common folks — a claim I'll prove it in the next post.