Dennis Anderson

Dennis Anderson has been a Star Tribune outdoors columnist since 1993, before which, for 13 years, he held the same position at the Pioneer Press. He enjoys casting and shooting. Dogs, too, and horses. Also kids and, occasionally, crusading in his column for improved conservation.

Posts about Fishing

Kids' hunting and fishing expectations might be tied closer to the "adventure,'' less to limits

Posted by: Dennis Anderson Updated: November 30, 2009 - 1:07 PM
As much as state fish and game agencies and various non-profits have tried, no one has come up with the answer on how to interest kids in the outdoors, specifically hunting and fishing.

The presumption of these agencies and groups seems to be that if kids — especially those who have no experience hunting and fishing — are exposed to these pastimes, they'll soon want to do them more and more.

As part of these "exposures,'' usually in the form of special hunting and fishing days, an emphasis often is placed on "getting something'' while in the field, whether it's a duck or goose, or fish.

Important as that can be, and is, in the development of young hunters and anglers, I believe four factors are more important.

1) Spending time in the field with one or both parents or a close adult friend or relative is most important to a child. The argues against the belief, now widely held by sponsors of youth hunting and fishing days, that exposure to these activities with a volunteer the child doesn't know on a single-outing basis is going to do much to interest a kid in the outdoors. I would argue it has little or no effect over the long term in developing a young hunter or angler.

2) Making outings adventuresome with an emphasis on "unpredictable outcomes''  is more important than focusing on harvest.  Kids get excited when parents are excited, and when outings in the outdoors are framed in terms of, "Let's plan an event, let's spend time together anticipating and preparing for the event, then let's do it and see what happens.'' Kids get less excited, or not excited at all, when they are "dropped off'' at a youth event to be paired with an unknown "mentor'' for a day.

3) Multiple "non-field'' learning exercises with kids are as important to developing young hunters and anglers today as are actual hunting and fishing trips. Kids today watch TV, that's a given, and adults who want their kids to grow up to be hunters and anglers should watch outdoor programs with their kids, and share that experience with them. A lot of these shows are junk, but not all. Many have helpful tips. More importantly, each offers reference points against which comparisons can be made to the kids' actual trips afield. More importantly still, sharing that time together with kids provides once again a common bond between adults and kids about what can be accomplished in the field, what kinds of gear to purchase, and so forth.

4) Finally, adults are mistaken, I believe, when they place too much emphasis on bringing home fish and game. Kids want to see something for their efforts, sure. But they don't need six ducks to make them happy. That's Old School, I'm convinced. They need time outdoors with important adults in their lives, they want to help plan and participate in adventures of unknown outcomes, and they want to learn and think about hunting and fishing by watching TV, attending sportshows, going to Ducks Unlimited or similar banquets — and doing this with adults who are important to their lives.

Which brings us to this point: Perhaps "youth hunting and fishing days'' have it backward. Perhaps state agencies and non-profits should be reaching out to adults and exposing them to these and other key methods intended to nurture their relationships with their kids that are outdoors-based and multi-faceted.

DNR fisheries chief Ron Payer to retire Nov. 2 after 11-year stint in top job

Posted by: Dennis Anderson Updated: September 21, 2009 - 1:54 PM

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries chief Ron Payer, 57, announced Sept. 17 at the agency’s annual fall fisheries managers meeting in Cloquet that he will retire Nov. 2.
The announcement took most at the DNR by surprise. Payer has worked at the DNR just over 32 years, starting in 1977 in Rochester, where he was assigned to purchase permanent easements to southeast Minnesota trout streams.
Pay range for his job is $67,700 to $97,217.
Payer has a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from South Dakota State University and a master’s from the same school in fisheries biology.
He has also worked for the DNR as an acid rain biologist, a trout biologist and a senior fisheries biologist in Grand Rapids, among other positions. He has been chief since 1998.
He and his wife, Holly, have two married sons, Sean, 34, and Paul, 28, and one grandchild. Both Sean and Paul are avid hunters and anglers.
I asked Payer why he retired, and about his DNR career:
Question: How long have you been considering retirement?
Answer: As state employees, we operate under the “Rule of 90,’’ meaning when your age and years of service equal 90, you can retire with full benefits. For me, that occurred in September. It was a difficult decision. I’m still very interested in the work. When you consider retiring, you look at your finances, your health and what things you still want to do. I want to travel with my wife, do more hunting and fishing with my friends and family, and be more active in my church and community. Looking at those things, it probably made sense to do it now.
Q: How is your health?
A: It’s pretty good. I don’t have any triggers right now that caused me to retire. I’ve had some heart issues I’ve been dealing with. In 1999 I had three surgeries and six stents put in. While I’m in pretty good shape right now, that’s always something you consider.
Q: Which part of your jobs was the most fun?
A: Working with people both inside and outside the DNR.
Q: Which accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: Everything was done in conjunction with a lot of people. In the southeast we worked well with landowners. The acid rain stint was enjoyable. The hooking mortality study we did on walleyes was very intriguing — it was one of the first two or three of its kind in the country. We’ve got a very good budgeting program in place. Also, we’ve worked hard to get people linked into the fishing opportunities the state has and we’ve helped provide. There’s a host of things our staff has accomplished.
Q: Anything you feel you’ve left undone?
A: Clearly we need to look again at our suite of regulations. Are they meeting anglers’ expectations? Additionally, we now have incredible opportunities to address aquatic habitat. With the vote on the constitutional amendment, Minnesotans told us that it’s important to them. In the habitat arena I think we’re in line to make a definable difference on the landscape. Zebra mussels and other invasives remain a problem. But I’m so impressed with the energy that our stakeholders have for fishing. As I told the fisheries staff, leadership changes give us a chance to build on our successes. I’m confident that will occur. I leave feeling very good with the direction we’re going.
Q: Are there qualified replacements for you within the DNR?
A: There are several people. I don’t know whether the commissioner’s office will pick from them or will also do a national search. I know we have a number of very qualified folks internally.

Fishing the West, on a budget, on your own. Five rivers to try.

Posted by: Dennis Anderson Updated: July 22, 2009 - 8:53 AM

I'm out West, in Montana, fishing this week, trying a variety of rivers, some of which I've fished before, some not. 

Being here beginning the third week of July usually puts the odds in your favor, in terms of river levels and flows. By then, the fast water resulting from the spring and summer melting of mountain snow pack has settled down, and the rivers are fishable.

That's also the case this summer, though conditions on most rivers are just now settling down. The good news is there was tremendous snow throughout much of the Rockies last winter, and most reservoirs are full. Most ranchers also are happy, because there is plenty of water for their crops.

However, the heavy runoff from the mountains has slowed fishing until the last week or so.

Now, as is typical this time of year in the West, day upon day seems hot, sunny - and a great time to fish.

Here are ways on five rivers you can get by on your own, on the cheap, and begin anew in this region the learning process that all fishing, ultimately, is:

Bighorn River: This is ground zero for many visiting Montana trout anglers, about 90 percent of whom, at least in their first trips here, hire guides. That's great. But at about $375 or more a day, expenses add up. A couple of alternatives: Walk and wade, seeking access, especially, at drift boat launch and takeout sites. Plenty of information regarding flies, techniques, etc., is available at local fly shops in Fort Smith, Mont., where flies and other gear also can be purchased. Another tip: Rent your own drift boat. The cost here is typically about $100 a day, but a boat can carry three anglers (one of whom would row). Be cautious in times of high water, however - but don't worry (generally) because if the water is real high and fast, no one will rent you a boat.

Yellowstone River: Again, a guide and boat are a great way to go. But there are access points at various locations (a couple of good Montana fly fishing books are widely available), including along the freeway between Big Timber, Mont., and Bozeman, Mont. Fly shops in Big Timber, Livingston and Bozeman can give you more information, including entry points upstream, closer to Yellowstone National Park.

Big Blackfoot River: Plenty of access points for walking and wading exist on this river, which was the focal-point stream for the book, "A River Runs Through It.'' This stream is farther west, however, not far from Missoula, Mont., near which the Big Blackfoot flows into the Clark Fork River. This is about as pretty a stream as you'll find, though fishing right now is a little tough, in part because of three large salmon fly hatches, which apparently have kept some trout from taking artificials. Again, local fly shops have information that will help you be successful.

Madison River: For visiting anglers looking to save money, renting a drift boat (again, about $100 a day) might be the best way to go. Not every shop will do this, but if you do some checking, and are flexible about your entry points (rental boats are available, among other places, at Cameron, Mont.), you can get a boat and a low-buck way to fish, for three  people, one of America's iconic rivers - and one that is known as the world's largest riffle.

Gallatin River: A great river that can be fished between Bozeman, Mont., and West Yellowstone, Mont., at any of a number of public access points. This is generally a fast river that can be a difficult place to place a fly correctly. But there are sufficient numbers of quieter spots to fish, and all are easy to access by the public, either below or above Big Sky, Mont.

It's all fun.

Admittedly, doing it on your own takes more time, and, initially, at least, will result in fewer fish taken than a guide will get you.

But in the end, you'll learn more by being your own boss.

Free fishing in state parks — which are your favorites?

Posted by: Dennis Anderson Updated: June 30, 2009 - 11:47 AM

Which are your favorite state parks to fish?

The question arises because visitors to state parks who want to try fishing can now do so for free. Under a new law the Legislature approved last session, state park visitors can fishing license-free in most parks beginning July 1.

"Most people would gladly go fishing if someone simply asked them,'' Courtland Nelson, director of the DNR's parks and trails division, said in a news release this week. "It's our hope that while friends and families are together in a park someone who fishes will share their rod and reel with someone who hasn't. That's how traditions are passed on. That's how connections to nature are made. And that's the start of fishing friendships that last a lifetime.''

A few catches: Park visitors can take fish without licenses while shore or wade fishing on state-owned land within a state park. When in a boat or float, only waters encompassed within the park can be fished.

Anglers must possess licenses while fishing in the state's six recreation areas; on waters where trout stamps are needed; and when fishing in any city, county, regional or federal park. 

For a list of parks where free fishing is available, check out

Meanwhile, here's a sampling of some of my favorite state parks to fish (not all offer waters where free fishing is available):

  1. Zippel Bay: It's hard to beat Lake of the Woods as a fishery, and this park gives you great access to it.
  2. Forestville: Great trout fishing, with terrific scenery. The park is located amid bluffs in the southeast, with cold-water streams holding good populations of brown trout in particular.
  3. Father Hennepin: A handy headquarters for campers wanting to fish Mille Lacs. Nicely laid out, for boaters and campers alike.
  4. Big Stone Lake: Being in the far western part of the state, Big Stone doesn't get the attention that many of the state's northern parks do. But it's a pretty park, with great access to Big Stone Lake.
  5. Wild River: Located on the St. Croix River a little over an hour north of the Twin Cities, Wild River State park offers the warm-water river fisherman plenty of action. Bring a canoe (or rent one) or a jon boat. Cast for smallies, northern pike and walleyes.


Fishing for Adventure in Antigua, Chapter 4

Posted by: Dennis Anderson Updated: May 28, 2009 - 6:39 PM

ANTIGUA, WEST INDIES — The other day as Louie the Boat Driver and I eased out of English Harbor on this island we rigged two stout lines off the stern and pointed the bow into the Trade Winds.

The trades blow from the northeast unrelentingly and our 27 foot open boat climbed atop cascading rollers before falling off their backsides precipitously.

To port we trolled a squid-type bait and to starboard a hard bait. Each ran at or near the surface and trailed our boat one or two large waves back.

We were the only fishing boat in sight. But not the only fishermen.

Up the coast, Thieu Henry, 26, and Bernard Lewis were just then shuffling slowly backward into the Atlantic Ocean. The men wore giant swim fins and after they had walked backward far enough and when the water was deep enough they dissolved into it.

Then they turned and began swimming.

The men wore face masks and each carried a spear gun.

At age 47, Bernard Lewis has spear fished for 30 years and hopes to make it another five or six years. He needs the money spear fishing brings him — maybe $60 U.S. on good days — but spear fishing is very demanding physically and he is unsure how long he can last.

He is reminded of this now as he and Thieu Henry swim in the aquamarine water that rings Antigua, over the estuaries where many smaller fish reproduce, toward York Island.

When they reach York Island they swim to its windward side and spend the next five or six hours diving there.

No boats. No life jackets. No wet suits.

“We fish in 30 feet of water, mostly,’’ Bernard Lewis says. “The fish are all near the bottom. We dive to the bottom, swim until we find fish, and shoot.’’

Each man swims with a wire attached to him, and when a fish is killed, it is strung through the wire toward its end. A cork float on the surface marks the end of the wire, and the wire, the fish and the float follow each man throughout the day.

“The problem,’’ said Louie the Boat Driver, explaining the difficulties of spear fishing, “is that the more fish a spear fisherman kills and puts on the wire, the bigger an attraction he is to sharks.’’

Hour after hour, the men dive, looking for fish. The spear guns are spring loaded and the spears themselves are tethered to the guns so they can be used repeatedly.

Some spear fishermen on Antigua dive as deep as 70 feet for fish, and can stay under water for more than two minutes.

“The more you practice, the longer you can stay under water,’’ Bernard Lewis said.

Usually the fish the men shoot are not big. Some are only the size of large crappies. Others are twice that big and more.

“We can only shoot six or seven feet, so we have to be pretty close to the fish,’’ Thieu Henry said.

“Some fish get scared away as we approach, others don’t,’’ Bernard Lewis said.

Many fish the men kill are remindful of aquarium fish. Wildly colored, they are poked one by one onto the men’s wires and trail behind them on the surface.

Louie the Boat Driver and I missed the first fish that hit.

That fish smacked the squid bait and somehow jumped the hook.

Our next fish hit on the other side and when it did Louie the Boat Driver killed the outboards. Without the engines our open boat lacked purchase and we were cast about in the rough seas. We braced our feet and knees along the boat’s gunnels as the boat tumbled. Louie the Boat Driver reeled in the other line and as he did I struggled with the bending rod while line tore from its reel.

Then the rod went slack.

Whatever the fish was broke a 5-inch hook completely off the hard bait.

We headed in.

So did Thieu Henry and Bernard Lewis, swimming through waves, 35 pounds of colorful fish trailing behind.

“We saw only one shark today, a lemon shark,’’ Bernard Lewis said. “The bad part is it’s jelly fish season, and we get stung all over our bodies, all day.’’



Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters