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outdoors Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

As the weather creeps lower and the ice thickens, many area lakes will start to look like shanty towns of the 1950s with little wooden shacks dotted across the landscape.

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However, there's a new change in fish house and dark house regulation. Those structures that don't have a state-issued license will have to come off the ice when the angler does.

For most fishermen and women, that shouldn't be a problem. Those with large, more accommodating houses already have a license for the structure and don't need to worry. Same thing goes for the one-day angler with a portable shelter that scoots as neatly off the ice as it does on it.

The change comes in the fact that any unattended structure after sunset needs to have a license.

"If you haul a fish house out and leave it unattended on the ice overnight, it needs a fish house license," said Col. Mike Hamm, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' chief conservation officer in a recent news release.

So, let's say you're at your cabin on Green Lake and you take your portable ice house out for a day's worth of fishing. After sunset, you leave the ice house, expecting to be out there early the next morning. Without a license, you would be in violation of the new law.

Conversely, you have a more permanent ice house on the lake, but don't have a license for it. If you spend the night in the ice house -- it has a few more amenities than the normal square shack with a bench and a hole in the bottom -- you are not breaking any laws. If you have a license for the structure, you can leave it out there overnight as long as the ice is safe.

The new rule states that a fish house or dark house that is left unattended "overnight" -- the hours between sunset and sunrise -- is required to have a license. These rules apply to resident and non-resident anglers alike.

For more information or to look at the DNR's FAQ (Frequently Answered Questions) on the new fish house regulations, visit the DNR's web site at mndnr.gov.

A few more changes

If you haven't seen the annual fishing regulations handbook published by the DNR, you might not know about a few fishing rules changes that went into effect Monday.

The two that are most relevant to our area are quite simple: fish caught on waters with size restrictions "must have their heads, tails, fins and skin intact and be measurable except when a person is preparing and using such fish for a meal"; and during Take A Kid Ice Fishing Weekend, which is Feb. 16-18, anglers older than 16 years of age do not need a license if they are accompanied by a child younger than 16 and are actively participating in the event (that means they are actually fishing).

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