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Tossing another line

State Rep. Al Juhnke is making a third try at legislation that would allow Minnesota anglers to fish with two lines during the open water season. It would allow anglers to toss out a baited bobber rig and continue to cast. Tribune file photo

WILLMAR -- In a Legislative session where numbers seem only to measure how bad things are, State Representative Al Juhnke has hit on a number everyone seems to like: two.

That's how many fishing lines Minnesota anglers could use in the open-water season, if a bill that the Willmar DFL'er has introduced this session is approved.

Even the veteran lawmaker has been surprised at how popular the idea has become. "Extremely popular," said Juhnke, explaining that phone calls, letters and e-mails to his office are running anywhere from 15- to 20-to-one in favor of the idea. He's seen an on-line petition and lots of blogs and comments posted on websites devoted to fishing in Minnesota in favor of the bill as well.

This is the third time that Juhnke has introduced the legislation, but he's not about to say this fish is landed. Juhnke said no different than in the previous attempts, his proposal faces lots of rough water.

The Department of Natural Resources has expressed its opposition to it. Senator Satveer Chaurdhary, DFL-Fridley, chair of the environment and natural resources committee, is opposed to it and may not give it a hearing, according to Juhnke.

State Senator David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, has introduced the companion bill to Juhnke's in the senate.

Juhnke said he has liked the idea of allowing two lines in summer ever since former West Central Tribune outdoors columnist and avid fisherman Rick James brought the idea to him years ago. Juhnke said that James told him that Minnesota's restriction allowing only one line during the open water season was just plain "nuts." Minnesota restricts anglers to one line during the open water season, except that two lines are allowed on border waters. The state has allowed two lines while ice fishing since 1975. All of our neighboring states allow at least two lines, and Wisconsin allows three, said Juhnke. James and others told Juhnke that because of the one-line restriction, many Minnesota anglers are doing a lot of their summer fishing in northern Wisconsin and places where two lines are allowed.

Juhnke heard that concern cited recently when resort owners in Minnesota converged on the capitol to make known their interests in the 2009 session.

The legislator said opposition to his bill focuses on concerns that allowing two lines will increase the fish harvest, and defeat conservation efforts to protect the size and quality of fisheries. He doesn't buy it: Juhnke said there is no scientific evidence to show that the practice of allowing two lines has harmed fishing in neighboring states. Most people are going to use two lines when the fish aren't biting, he said. "When they're biting, you're only going to use one," he said.

There isn't a lot of scientific data when it comes to harvest rates comparing one and two-line restrictions, but there is some, according to Ed Boggess, deputy director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Two lines are allowed on the border waters of Big Stone Lake. There, an analysis found that fishermen and women using two lines saw a 30- to 40-percent increase in their harvest as compared to those using one line, according to Boggess.

He said that neighboring states have allowed two lines for as long as anyone can remember. Consequently, other regulations and bag limits have all been developed based on acceptance of the two-line practice. Minnesota has had a one-line limit in place since the 1920s. Possession limits and other regulations are based on the harvest that a one-line restriction produces.

The DNR is working hard to promote a quality fishery and many of the current regulations are designed to protect not only the numbers but the size of the fish, said Boggess. He said that allowing two lines will make it more difficult to achieve goals for maintaining good-sized game fish in many lakes.

Senator Chaudhary, reached via e-mail, reiterated his opposition to the bill and said he will not let the bill advance in the senate. He charged that the bill "cherry picks" what we like from other state's regulations, without looking at the other types of conservation methods those states also employ.

Wisconsin does not allow trolling on most of its lakes, has tighter bag limits, and minimum size requirements that Minnesota does not have, Boggess and Chadhary pointed out. Well aware of the opposition in the senate, Juhnke is encouraging supporters of his bill to contact their senators. He said he is hopeful that the bill could find enough support to survive the conference committee process absent an approved bill in the senate.

Bogguss agrees with Juhnke that electronics -- including underwater cameras, GPS systems and fish finders -- all probably have a much bigger impact on conservation efforts than would allowing two lines during the open water season.

But Boggess said it would be very difficult to start restricting electronics now that their use is so widespread.

Like an angler who tips his lure with live bait to attract fish, Juhnke has also worked to make his bill allowing two lines more attractive in a year of dismal budgets. The local legislator has offered a proposal that would allow anglers to purchase a $5 or $10 stamp for the privilege of using two lines. Conservative estimates indicate that the stamp could raise anywhere from an extra $1 million to $3 million for fisheries, he said.

Juhnke doesn't expect resolution on the legislation one way or another until very late in the session, or right around the 2009 opener.