For 90 years, anglers fishing open water in Minnesota have been allowed to use only one line.
This year, for the fifth time in 10 years, a bill has been introduced at the Legislature that would allow two fishing lines. And, as always, it's controversial.
Some argue it's not needed, or wanted, by most anglers. Others say it's an option anglers should have.
A key House committee approved a bill last week that allowed two lines but, in a new twist, wouldn't allow anglers to troll with two lines.
Department of Natural Resources officials testified against the provision, saying the statewide walleye limit, now six, likely would need to be reduced to two to offset the anticipated increase in harvest and fish mortality.
"When you're using two lines, the chance of increased hooking mortality goes up," said Dirk Peterson, DNR fisheries chief.
Peterson said the DNR has made great strides to improve the quality of fishing since 1990, and the switch to two lines would offset two decades of work. Increased harvest could be especially problematic at Mille Lacs and Upper Red, lakes where the state shares walleye harvest with Chippewa tribes, he said.
But Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, author of the provision, doesn't buy the DNR's argument.
"They make all kinds of threats," he said. "They might try to do something like that [a two-fish walleye limit], but we'll just have to straighten them out."
Said Hackbarth: "Every other state around us has it. I have a number of constituents that ask me about it all the time; that's why I brought it forward. There are other legislators who say they have constituents who want it, too."
Peterson said neighboring states that allow two lines tend to have regulations that compensate for the additional harvest. Two lines currently are allowed on Minnesota's border waters, including Lake Superior, but, as written, the bill would prevent trolling with two lines on those waters. "We've got to fix that," Hackbarth said.
Lance Ness, president of the Fish and Wildlife Legislative Alliance and Anglers for Habitat, testified against the measure. "We think it's unnecessary," he said.
The provision is one of many affecting anglers and hunters in a large Omnibus Game and Fish bill. A similar bill passed the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Another contentious provision would limit the number of lakes where the DNR imposes special northern pike restrictions, intended to boost the size of fish.
The DNR now has 119 waters with length-based northern limits and says lake associations and fishing groups often asked for the restrictions to improve fishing.
A provision in the bill authored by Hackbarth would limit the number of lakes to 60. A Senate bill sets the limit at 90. The DNR says it has capped the number at 125, and notes there are 3,351 lakes with northerns.
But Tim Spreck, president of the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association, said the size restrictions discourage spearers from using the lakes because they fear they'll spear an illegal northern.
"Essentially a slot limit is a spearing ban," he said. "The DNR is managing with trophy status in mind; they are squeezing out harvest anglers, especially spearers."
And he said the DNR had said it would put size restrictions on only about 60 waters.
"There's probably less than three dozen lakes that can produce trophy pike," Spreck said.
The regulations have been 20 years in the making and were imposed after numerous public meetings, Peterson testified. They have boosted the average size of northerns. Arbitrarily dropping 30 to 60 lakes would be problematic, he said.
"There is no fair or reasonable way to drop that number," Peterson said.
Hackbarth said of the DNR: "They're trying to kill the sport of spearing. Despite what the DNR says, they had a gentleman's agreement that they wouldn't go over 60 lakes. Now they're up to 120. Something has to be done."
What about the DNR's contention that the regulations are working?
"Of course they're going to say that; it's part of their rhetoric to get rid of spearing," Hackbarth said.
Said Ness, whose groups oppose the measure: "The idea is to get rid of the hammer handle northerns; everyone wants to catch a big one."
Doug Smith • firstname.lastname@example.org