As Minnesota anglers headed out for Saturday’s fishing opener, there was one lake where they didn’t catch anything.
At Jolly Ann Lake, a 256-acre basin in Otter Tail County where walleye and northern abound, the only public access was blocked by a sturdy fence.
But Rick Chodek, who built the fence on a gravel road leading to the lake, wasn’t sure whether it would survive opening weekend.
“The cowboys up here, they’ll probably bring their chain saws and John Deere tractors,” he said Friday. “Neighbors are calling and asking if I’m going to let them have a key. Half the county knows it’s closed, and half the county has come down just to take a look.”
Chodek’s fence, which he built last fall, is the result of a long-running feud between the lakeshore landowner and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Chodek owns about 40 acres of farmland surrounding a small boat launch and parking lot that’s long been used for public access to Jolly Ann, near the town of Ashby.
Chodek claims there’s a long list of legal errors in the process by which the state created the access area. Most important, he says, the road leading to the boat launch isn’t where land records say it should be. That means it is not a properly designated public road, he says, but his private driveway.
Chodek said he was tired of the traffic and trash generated by anglers, and decided to enforce what he claims is his right to control access to his property.
“How would you feel if the public was using your driveway and putting Styrofoam bait buckets and beer cans and diapers out the window?” he said.
The state has charged Chodek with two misdemeanor counts of creating a public nuisance and interfering with game and fish activities. A DNR spokeswoman last week said the agency was “aware of the situation” at Jolly Ann Lake and would have conservation officers patrolling the area on opening weekend in case of any disputes.
Chodek said he made several attempts to clear up the land title, offering to sell land to the DNR or swap land with the agency, but was rebuffed. Now, he said, he’s determined to fight his court case to the end.
“I enjoy owning land as an American,” Chodek said. “There are rules that the government can’t take your land without just compensation.
“They basically took it, and now I’m taking it back.”