Heath Sershen

Heath Sershen has been fishing creeks in southeast Minnesota for 25 seasons.

Posts about Fishing

Fall on the St. Croix

Posted by: Heath Sershen Updated: October 6, 2009 - 2:55 PM
Being a mystical fish the Lake Sturgeon has been a target of mine for several seasons. With the help of many of my friends on RoughFish.com I was able to get one.

My traditional fall angling for the past 12 seasons has occurred on one or another Great Lakes tributary chasing exotic introduced sport fishes of the Salmon and Trout variety.  This was always a conflict of interest for me as I was sold by the marketing that lead me to believe that this is where I should be fishing.  Let me tell you that you can only enjoy catching so many half rotted, totally limp, King Salmon with broke off lures suck in their fins. 

Further, i have come to my senses and now understand that the impact that these exotics are having on the fishery are in fact affecting the livelihood of our native species. As a student of Leopold, I suggest that ethically, it is important to limit my contribution to the furthering of exotic species introduction programs.

This year I saved $250 in hotel cost, $125 in fuel, and $55 in out of state licenses by staying nearer to home to fish the St. Croix River for prehistoric Lake Sturgeon, a native and rare species of special concern.  

I will spare you the small details of the outing and begin this story with a journal excerpt from after we were anchored.

2009-10-03_StCroixRiver-  I saw the fish thump my line rigged with a 1/0 circle hook, three fatheads (two live and one smashed) and two night crawlers. It then went limp.

I began to reel in the slack and found that the fish was still there and was running at the boat. I pulled the line smoothly tight and the fight was on. We had two people with four rods in one boat. My fishing partner started to act on our “fish on” plan that we had set on our way to the river. His chore was to bring in three lines and two anchors. Our inboard motor had been pulled up out of the water as soon as we had set the anchors.

With two lines up I felt the lull of being wrapped around the front anchor. My partner switched to pulling in the anchor. Our plan was to pull the anchor up until we saw where my line was wrapped. We got the anchor up from the 30-foot river bottom to within three feet of the boat when we noticed my line was wrapped around three times. We took care of that with a sharp knife to the anchor rope making sure that we were holding on to the anchor before we cut the rope.

The fight continued. My partner got the other rod and anchor in and readied the net. We were in luck in that my buddy Chad was anchored 30-feet away in his boat. He aimed his 1 million watt spotlight our way so that the fish was easily netted.

As the fish came in the boat an eight inch Lamprey fell off. I promptly flipped the Lamprey back into the water.

The fish taped to 44-inches and came up at 17-pounds on the digital scale.

We photo-documented the catch and gently released it into the water.  I made sure that the fish swam off on its own volition which it did so with a fury.  It was 10.30pm and we had been fishing since 6pm.  This was our second fish for the night and it was truly wonderful to get an up close look at this species of special concern.  I found that this fish was truly unique in that the coloring on its body looks as sand does at the bottom of a clear creek.  Its something I have not seen in other species of fish and is unique to this one.

After at least 28 seasons on the water I have added four new species to my list this season; Burbot, Longnose Gar, Shovelnose Sturgeon, and Lake Sturgeon.

Definitively this catch-photo-and-release trophy definately makes up for loosing my tackle box to a Canadian wind storm on a border lake in May and  the fly rod that I left on the top of my car in September as I left a the River for the day on the South Branch of the Whitewater.

Anyone know of anyone that has found a Winston IM6 with an Orvis CFO on it in the Whitewater Area lately? Specifically around Altura?

Angling for our Native Lake Sturgeon

Posted by: Heath Sershen Updated: October 2, 2009 - 12:01 PM
    Lake Sturgeon are classified as rare species by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Lake Sturgeon, Acipenser fulvescens, are of special concern to the MDNR however not to the federal level.  Nationally these fish are caught in the northern states.  
    Traditionally this species was a food base for Native Americans living in the river woodlands.  Their large size and habits of living in clear waters made them easy prey for ancient fish hunters who speared and netted these fish.  As European settlers began to commercially fish our waters the Lake Sturgeon became extirpated as undesirable.  Their once dominant numbers were quickly reduced to concerning levels through wanton waste, exotic sport fish species introductions, and dam building.
This species of fish is different than most in our waterways in that it has no bones in its body rather a Sturgeon's body is comprised of cartilage.  This makes it more closely related to a Shark than anything else in our water.  Unlike a Shark the Sturgeon has a sucker mouth and is considered a bottom feeder in most circumstances.
    Anglers can seek Sturgeon on the St. Croix for about 40-days each season.  Only one fish can be kept with a Sturgeon tag during the 25-day catch and keep season with a minimum length of 60-inches.  Catch and release anglers can fish an additional 15 days after the catch and keep season ends.
    Anglers seeking sturgeon will need a medium-heavy or heavy-rod of about seven feet in length.  20-pound test is the recommended minimum for these fish as upon being hooked, they will typically jump and fight well.  
    One to three ounces of weight are recommended.  It is important to have your bait on the bottom.  Gobs of crawlers, shad, and fatheads all make fine bait.  
    From my experience with fish over 50-pounds I would recommend that anglers consider a few pre-fish preparations.  Two lines are allowed on the St. Croix River.  A nineteen-foot boat is about enough room for four lines and two anglers.  Two anchors will be required to hold the boat steady enough to notice the light takes of Sturgeon.
    A bow anchor and a back anchor with three lines in the water and one fish on is a lot to manage.  Lake Sturgeon are known to run “all-over-the-place”.  Best practices would recommend that once a fish is on bring in the other lines.  If it is obvious that the fish on the line is too powerful to bring in quickly then also bring up one of the anchor ropes.  A large net is necessary and in rare situations a fish will require you to beach it so an action plan is necessary for successful catch – photo – and release. 
    As always, take care when handling a fish as Sturgeon over five-feet in length can be as much as 100-years old.  One last thing to consider when seeking or handling this fish is that they do not reach reproductive maturity until their third decade of life.  Take care in handling and releasing this fish and the future could bear you more Sturgeon to angle.

Late Season Trout

Posted by: Heath Sershen Updated: September 25, 2009 - 1:14 PM
Late Season Trout.

    Late season trout angling in Minnesota is a prime opportunity for catch and release anglers to hunt trout.  Minnesota's late season trout angling runs from middle to end September.  An angler can catch and release trout with an artificial lure with a barbless hook.  All of the designated trout streams are open during this special season.  An angler can choose to fish their honey hole or to seek sight-fishing opportunities at places that hold late season Rainbows that average nine to 14 inches.
    Rainbows are typically stocked in streams that receive most of the region's angling pressure throughout the harvest season.  Rush Creek (Rushford area),  the Whitewater System streams (Elba area), South Branch Root River (Preston and Lanesboro areas) Preston, and Duschee Creek are fishing well with 30 catch and release fish days awarding skilled anglers.
    Anglers can expect success with a good drift and a good fly.  Drifting your fly properly is imperative to fool a trout with your fly.  If you have a good drift and a bad fly you catch fish.  If you have a bad drift and a good fly you will catch very little.
If I only had one fly it would be the Pink Lab.  The Pink Lab is similar to the Pink Squirrel however has its own esoteric aspects. 
     Firstly, a Pink Lab is tied on an offset scud hook when a Pink Squirrel is tied on a straight shank hook.  It is believed that many anglers loose fish because of a barbless hook.  Anglers can increase their catch rates by using a barbless off set hook.
    Secondly, a Pink Lab's body material is collected from living Yellow Labrador Retriever's.  This is the secret ingredient that has fooled countless trout.  
     The great thing about the late season is that harvest pressure for trout is non-existent.  An angler can truly find himself on a creek, in the middle of the forest, two miles from the car, and alone.  This is southeast Minnesota backcountry paradise.     
    Further, the majority of the Rainbows are not very spooky.  An angler keeping a low profile can sneak up on pods of fish.
    I suggest to all catch and release anglers that fish being caught for sport are best left in the water at all times.  This includes when unhooking the fish and photographing your catch.  It is known that an angler can catch the same fish multiple times over multiple days.  This is dependent on the fact that the fish was properly handled after being hooked.  Playing a fish to exhaustion is not recommended.  Squeezing a fish is also discouraged.  

Please consult Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources Minnesota fishing regulations for more information on Minnesota's late season trout angling opportunities.  

Fisheries Management for the 21st Century

Posted by: Heath Sershen Updated: September 2, 2009 - 7:17 PM
    Angler groups are a diverse population.  Their diversity can be identified on a complex continuum that spans multiple dimensions in accordance with environmental, legal, and social experiences associated with catch and non-catch related aspects of a fishing activity.
     For example, an angler whom was introduced to the activity by peers will have a different take on fishing than an individual that was introduced by family.  Age is a factor as well as where, when, and why.  
     The habitual nature of fishing can be described as catch or non-catch related aspects.  For instance, an angler may enjoy the activity because they are skilled in catching many fish or due to the escape that they may gain from their regular routine away from the water.
     Fisheries managers play a role in the experiences that anglers have in many ways however they are mainly concerned with the catch related aspects, those that involve fish.        Knowledge of the growing diversity in angler groups’ dimensions allows for a more comprehensive approach to fisheries management that considers the full spectrum of the activity and not just the fish.
     Fishing is a social activity that typically involves family and friends. The nature of and process of social group composition is important for understanding the particular meanings that individuals attribute to their fishing participation.  The meanings attributed to fishing and the groups involved socially create the experiences sought (Ditton, 2004).
     Recreational fishing is a popular leisure pursuit across the western world because of the various benefits provided to humans and its low overall cost. There are studies that indicate that fishing includes health benefits (physiological); psychological benefits, therapeutic benefits, learning benefits, sociological benefits and environmental benefits (Ditton, 1998).
     A human dimensions focus begins with an understanding of public attitudes toward resources (Ditton, 2004). Human dimensions of fisheries management are about identifying what people think and do regarding fishery resources, and understanding why.  It is “an area of investigation which attempts to describe, predict, understand, and affect human thought and action toward natural environments” (Manfredo et al. 1996). The two major human dimensions components in fisheries are research and application (Ditton, 2004).
     All types of decision-making impact on people’s emotions.  It is important to understand anglers’ attitudes and opinions in management decision making for several reasons: this is their reality, whilst there is often a lack of positive relationship between attitude and behavior, the former is still the best indicator available of the latter, anglers may be educated to new understanding but they are not likely to be forced to accept actions that are against their wishes,  fishery managers in most countries have probably learned that new management policies, no matter how scientifically sound will be likely to be rejected and fail if not in accord with the fundamental views held by the angling publics (Vanderpool 1986; Matlock et al. 1988).
     Human dimensions research that focuses on anglers’ attitudes or ‘emotions’ could be useful in answering some of the following questions:
     -Is there opposition to the proposed regulations from the entire population, or is it representative of only a ‘noisy’ minority?
     -What else is known about those who support or oppose the regulation?
     -Can the management agency expect anglers to follow or oppose the regulation?
     -Can the management agency expect anglers to follow or violate the regulations?
     -Are some regulations more acceptable than others to the aggregate of anglers or particular segments?  Are various combinations more or less palatable to a majority of anglers?
     -How well known is the biological basis for this management decision amongst the public?
     -What are the reasons behind the opposition to the proposed regulations?

Trash Fish

Posted by: Heath Sershen Updated: August 17, 2009 - 12:36 PM
The dominate human dimensions of angling culture as a nation describes Gar, Bowfin, Buffalo, Drum, Redhorse, and Suckers, amongst several other species as trash fish. This group is composed or predominately native species.  Angling for these species is largely unregulated compared to sport species and an “angler” can net, shoot, or spear huge limits of these species.  

The hypocrisy blows my mind.

Here in southeast Minnesota, the state government funds programs through the Outdoor Heritage Fund that are meant to spread the habituation of wild, mostly exotic, trout while not taking into consideration our world class Redhorse fishery.   There are no programs in place to restore habitat for the endangered Blue Sucker or the rare Spotted Sucker and Shovelnose Sturgeon.  

The funding comes from a state Outdoor Heritage Fund which was created as a result of a constitutional amendment passed by state voters in 2008. For the next 25 years, 33 percent of a new state sales tax will be dedicated to the restoration, protection and enhancement of wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game and wildlife.

Unfortunately this amendment did not specify between native and non-native species.

According to John Lenczewski, TU's Minnesota Council Chair, "Habitat restoration improves wild trout fisheries and increases Minnesota anglers' enjoyment of our coldwater ecosystems. This tangibly reconnects people to the land and motivates them to support watershed improvements."

Trout Unlimited’s rhetoric says that they are restoring the habitat.   My logic and expereince leaves me with the questions, “Then why don't I catch Brook Trout, Chub, Suckers, Redhorse, Buffalo, Sturgeon, Panfish, and Pike in this creek” and “Why are trout stamp sales slumping?”

Maybe we ought to start considering starting a group dedicated to the preservation of Native Species habitat, population, and education, to combat such evil lures of ignorant media and ignorant rhetoric.

Native Species Unlimited perhaps?

I have had more encounters with ignorant anglers killing spawning natives this year then ever.  When I put my cards down on the table with the offending angler the answer is always, "I thought we had to kill them."  

I always take the time to try and make a friend out of these people by explaining them the virtues of naturalism and ecosystem biodiversity prior to saying my good byes.  Some agree to return the fish to the water voluntarily.  Other experiences have required me to cite Minnesota’s wanton waste laws and threatening a call to the game warden.

While on an annual visit to the MNDNR’s Lanesboro Trout hatchery a few years ago I was dissapointed to find that someone had left scores of dead White Suckers on the bank along Duschee Creek direclty adjancent to the gate over the creek that you must drive over to enter the hatchery.  A blatant wonton waste offense just outside of a state run hatchery.

I do feel anxiety that it may be too late in certain instances for native sepcies however if we can "restore" German Brown Trout habitat in the Driftless area,  spread their range by hundreds of stream miles, and increase the population density 10 fold, then we can certainly restore degraded native species spawning beds.  Further, if we can specially regulate and license anglers seeking German Browns and Ganaraska Rainbows then we can certainly specially regulate and license native species anglers.

This is but an example, I do not believe that special licensing is the bottom line however I am passionate about an educative component being instituted to fishing license applicants in order to participate in the activity.  A "rod" license if you will.  

I do not believe that it should be something that anyone can just go to the store and buy without a bit of a Q + A.  In my mind it is sound pedagogy in order to further protect and enhance our waterways sensitive and often threatened bio diversity.

This could be but a start to end fish species ignorance and segragration.  Its a fight that will take many years in order to reverse the common rhetoric to one that is more correct for Mother Nature.

Many ecologists have understood for years that you want to kill all the non-native species in order to protect the environment and restore the biodiversity.  They further understand that this process needs to be gradual in order to maintain the senstive carrying capacity of the eco-system.  This may include special management considerations for non-natives as part of a long term program to inihibit their habituation.  You’ve just got to ask yourself if you would rather see a field of Dandelions or a field of Coneflowers and "Do you want your children and grand children growing up describing pheasants as natives?"

I suggest and encourage all anglers to understand the impact that one individual can have on an ecosystem by understanding as much of it as possible.


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