How do fish measure up?

January 4, 2008

Faith Outdoors

I recently returned to an ice-fishing trip on Upper Red Lake. The details of my experience will be featured in my upcoming monthly outdoors column. For now, I’d like to sound off on a hot topic on Upper Red and other lakes that have slot limits.

It has to do with fish measuring and how the DNR measures fish and handles violations of the slot limit. I have talked to anglers and resort owners on Upper Red Lake on a number of occasions about this topic. I also talked to someone from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) about this topic. He works in Bemidji and says Upper Red Lake is under his jurisdiction.

It seems anglers have gotten upset since Upper Red reopened to walleye fishing in 2006. The reason is that there have been reports of people who thought they had measured fish correctly in their boats, then had their fish measured by the DNR after getting back to shore and discovering that one or more were longer than 17 inches, which puts them in the protected slot of 17-26 inches.

Along with these reports comes tales of DNR enforcement officers measuring and remeasuring fish, pinching the tail until it just nudges past the 17-inch mark, then giving the angler a citation with an accompanying hefty fine.

I have two responses to this issue. First, I think anglers should get smart about measuring their fish. The best advice I got was from someone at West Wind Resort on Upper Red Lake. He recommended buying a special measuring trough that has a ruler embossed on the bottom. You place the fish in the trough, push its nose against the flat end, flatten the fish out, squeeze the tail and measure where the tip is. If it’s under 17, keep it. If it’s exactly on the 17 mark or longer, throw it back.

Some even recommend using the 16 3/4 mark or even 16 1/2 as a guide. That’s fine, but I’m confident enough in my measuring (I’ve had lots of practice) that I stretch my length limit to 16 7/8. It’s rare that I’ve had a fish this length but, when I do, I remeasure the fish so I can be sure it’s under 17. I may even flip my fish over and measure it from the other side.

Second, I think the DNR should work harder to help educate people on how to correctly measure fish. Some of the people I have talked to seemed surprised at how meticulously enforcement officers measure fish. I’m also not sure if people realize how important it is to flatten the fish and pinch the tail. This is something the DNR should be helping people learn. After all, it takes everyone working together to keep the resource healthy. That’s part of what stewardship is all about.

In my conversation with the DNR guy from Bemidji, I brought this up. He offered what I thought was an interesting perspective. He was well aware of the stories coming from Upper Red about overzealous enforcement officers handing out lots of tickets for very slight violations of the slot limit. But, his take on it was this: Those who got tickets probably acted like jerks to the officers and got a ticket more because of that than because of the violation itself. His advice is to act calmly and politely to an officer and avoid getting into a heated confrontation.

In all the times I’ve been to Upper Red, I’ve only been checked by the DNR once. It happened last summer while I was on the water with the winner of The Catholic Spirit kids fishing essay contest, Maddie Weathers of Hastings. The officer came to the boat, asked if we had caught any walleyes, then looked in the live well when we said yes. Even though we had one fish that measured 16 3/4, he did not measure any of our fish. He simply said, “OK, have a nice day” and continued on. So, I can’t say I’ve personally had a bad experience with the DNR.

If anyone has had a personal encounter with a DNR enforcement officer, good or bad, I’d like to hear about it.

About Dave Hrbacek

Staff photographer and writer for The Catholic Spirit. Also, avid outdoors enthusiast with a passion for hunting, fishing and photography. Married to Julie and have four children, three boys and a girl.

View all posts by Dave Hrbacek