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Doug Leier, Published August 11 2010

Leier: Anglers in North Dakota keep watchful eye

I’m peppered with complaints and discussions about “fish hogs,” a less-than-flattering tag used by some anglers to describe other anglers who supposedly take more than their fair share of fish, without exceeding the daily limit.

I don’t discount what anyone witnesses. In the back of my mind I usually have more questions than answers. If the limit is five fish per day, then who’s to say which anglers should take and keep five fish?

Let me throw out a couple of examples for discussion. Say several anglers travel from Fargo to Lake Oahe. A crew of guys makes it an annual event, and it’s one of only a couple each takes on a given year.

The three anglers each land their own daily limit of fat fish– walleye or pike, it doesn’t matter. While at the fish cleaning station next to the boat ramp the visitors are happy to clean, take home and eat their bounty. At the same time, a couple of local anglers see the crew and quickly question why the out-of-towners would keep so many fish. Unnecessary words such as fish hogs are exchanged and bad blood created all over some fish that were legally caught.

Now, for the sake of this story, let’s ask the cleaning station watchdogs how often they fish, and how many fish they keep over the course of a spring and summer? Hypothetically they respond they catch and keep at least a dozen limits annually. My point is, I understand and support the practice of catch/release, at times I think we’re a bit trigger happy to stick a tag on someone else when we don’t necessarily know their circumstances, while we ourselves might end up taking way more fish from a body of water over time.

If an angler only has a 20-minute distance between work or home and their favorite fishing spot – even if they only take home a fish or two each evening or weekend – the total impact to the fishery may be far more than what a one-time trip subtracts. While this little scenario probably has dozens of different variations, we shouldn’t be so quick to judge the fishing practices of others as long as they aren’t doing anything illegal.

On the other hand, it’s vital to have local anglers in each corner of the state who feel a certain “ownership” of their local water. Local groups take pride in investing time, effort and resources into providing fishing access, docks, piers, campgrounds and maintenance so visitors can enjoy their outdoors experience. Anglers should take upon themselves to call the RAP line if they witness something illegal.

The Department monitors populations and works to balance opportunity with the health of a fishery by establishing limits. In the end, it’s a good thing that North Dakota has so many anglers who are genuinely interested in the state’s fishing resources.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reach ed by email: dleier@nd.gov