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Many violations caught before anglers even hit the water for Minnesota fishing opener

Col. Rodmen Smith, Enforcement Division director for the Minnesota DNR, urges anglers to check their boats for safety and registration requirements before heading to the lake.

Wisconsin Conservation Warden Dave Sanda talks with a boatload of anglers fishing on Leader Lake near Wascott on an August morning. Sanda reminded the anglers that anyone in the boat under age 13 must have a life jacket on under state law.
The Enforcement Division chief for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reminds anglers headed out for Saturday's walleye and northern pike opener to make sure they are in compliance with boating regulations, most of which are focused on safety. A fire extinguisher and a throwable safety line are among the requirements — as well as life jackets, which are the topic of conversation in this file photo of a conservation officer talking to anglers on the water.
John Myers / Forum News Service file photo

Editor's note: This story has been updated since original publication to correct the description of a safety regulation. Minnesota boats over 16 feet in length are required to have a throwable safety device aboard.

WILLMAR — Many of the most common violations occurring on the fishing opener are caught right at the boat launch, oftentimes before the eager anglers ever reach the water.

Anglers get all excited about getting fishing rods and tackle up to snuff for the opener, but then neglect matters pertaining to their boats, according to Col. Rodmen Smith, director of the Enforcement Division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

He encourages anglers to make sure they are in compliance with boating regulations, most of which are focused on safety. Anglers need to make sure they have the life jackets that they need, and that those life jackets are in good shape and not torn or moldy from winter storage. He advises boaters to make sure their fire extinguisher is aboard and in working condition, and that they have the required throwable safety device along in boats over 16 feet in length.

Don’t forget to check that the boat registration is current. It’s too easy to put the boat registration notice that arrived in the mail in January aside and forget about it, he pointed out.


By all means, don’t forget that fishing license. Every year, conservation officers will write up citations for anglers who neglected to purchase a license. There’s no excuse: Anglers can purchase their license on their mobile phones, by the way.

Col. Rodmen Smith
Col. Rodmen Smith, director of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Enforcement Division
Contributed / Deborah Rose, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Other common opening day violations have to do with special regulations on the lakes angler choose. Anglers sometimes rely on faulty memories and don’t always get the slot limit lengths or possession limits right, said Smith.

He recommends downloading the Minnesota DNR’s lake finder app and checking it for the lake you fish. The rules are also posted at public accesses on the lakes with special regulations.

The fishing opener is an “all hands on deck” weekend for the state’s nearly 200 conservation officers. The fishing opener and the firearm deer season opener are the two busiest weekends of the year for conservation officers.

More than 4,000 of the state’s 11,842 lakes are considered fishing lakes. Officers do their best to cover as much water as possible and respond to the many tips they get during the opening weekend, Smith said.

There are 1 million to 1.2 million licensed anglers in Minnesota each year. It’s estimated that roughly 500,000 anglers venture out on the opening weekend, although that number has not been vetted.

The more common violations encountered by conservation officers change as the season progresses. The July 4 and Labor Day weekends are the biggest in terms of people fishing without licenses. Many non-anglers are visiting buddies at their cabins on those weekends, and take the chance of fishing without a license, Smith explained.

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As the season progresses, the number of non-residents plying the state’s waters increase, and so do violations for things like keeping fish over the limit, he added.


Overall, staffing numbers in the Enforcement Division are fairly decent after years of being short, he said. Officer numbers are trending upward and approaching full staffing levels.

It’s become more difficult to recruit for law enforcement, said Smith, but the DNR’s Enforcement Division has been fortunate. While overall applicant numbers are down, the quality of applicants is very good, he said.

A new academy for officer candidates got underway on May 1. There are 17 candidates in training for 10 vacancies. With upcoming, planned retirements, he expects the division to be close to full staffing when the new trainees take to the field.

This area has two long-standing officer vacancies in the Montevideo and Benson sites. Smith said officer candidates have been assigned to both.

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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