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Plenty of disappointed, would-be anglers

Rob Lein tries his luck Thursday on the Foot Lake fishing pier in Willmar as Paul Gerdes keeps him company. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

WILLMAR -- Ever since the state's electronic licensing system went dark with the shut down of state services, there has been no way to buy a fishing license.

It may be impossible to measure what kind of impact this has on the local economy, but there is no question about the frustration it is already causing.

"Everybody is upset,'' said Brad Foshaug, of Brad's '71 Bait and Sports, Willmar.

Foshaug said he fields inquiries every day from people looking for some way to buy a fishing license. Many are visitors from out of state who were caught unawares by the state shutdown. One guy told him point blank: "I spent $2,000 to go on vacation and you're gonna tell me I can't fish?''

"There's a lot of unhappy people,'' said Foshaug. "And I don't know what they're doing.''

Making sure her customers weren't going to be unhappy was on the mind of Judy Sandgren, who along with her husband, LeRoy, operates Beard's Resort on Long Lake near Hawick.

When a state shut down looked likely, Sandgren started calling all of her guests with reservations through the month of July. She urged them to go online and purchase a license if they intended to fish.

So far, she has not heard a word from any of her guests about the issue.

If the shut down continues beyond July? "I don't know what's going to happen after that,'' she said.

The inability to purchase a fishing license hasn't proven to be a big issue at Dickerson's Resort on Lake Florida either, at least not yet. Connie Dickerson said that's partly because fishing isn't the main focus for most of the resort's guests.

However, she also noted that the resort will be welcoming guests from Iowa this weekend. They may not be aware that they cannot buy a license.

Bob and Chris Schimerowski have welcomed a few out-of-state guests this week to their Sunset Shores Resort on Norway Lake. They didn't know the state shutdown would prevent them from buying a fishing license and were disappointed, said Bob Schimerowski.

The resort's guests in July aren't die-hard fishermen, and the spell of warm, sunny weather has also taken the edge off their disappointment. The weather has been perfect for skiing and enjoying time on the beach. Those hurt by the shut down are the members of the party who like to spend a few hours fishing, or looked forward to hooking children in the family on the sport, he noted.

It's not just out-of-state visitors caught off guard by the inability to buy fishing licenses. Zachery Harlan at J's Bait and Sporting Goods in Willmar said he's had to inform plenty of in-state residents that he cannot sell them fishing licenses too.

He was very busy selling fishing licenses in the three days before the state shut down.

High water levels on the Minnesota River have kept away many out-of-state visitors who normally come to catch catfish. Also, Lynn Koenen at D.J.'s Sporting Goods in Montevideo, said the store did all it could to forewarn people about the need to buy a license prior to a possible shut down, and it seems to have helped.

Still, he's expecting the number of inquiries about licenses to start rising. "The fishing has been great,'' he said.

The fishing license situation has proven a dilemma for conservation officers, who encounter people who wanted to buy licenses but could not do so. Conservation officer Ed Picht ran into one person who was fishing at the Churchill Dam without a license. When the man explained he had attempted to buy a license at the bait shop across from the dam, the officer used his discretion. He will be following up on the man's promise to buy a license as soon as possible.

Until then, the officer expects to continue fielding a steady stream of questions from people asking if there is some way they can buy a license. Unfortunately, he said he has to tell them "no."

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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