Vern Wagner

When Vern Wagner is not tournament bass fishing or teaching kids to fish, he can be found roaming the State Capitol working on fish habitat and fishing legislation.

Posts about Fishing

Rally at the Capitol featuring Al Lindner on Monday

Posted by: Vern Wagner Updated: April 19, 2012 - 6:37 AM

You’re invited! Hunters, Fishermen & Women, Conservationists and friends of the Outdoors will be gathering at the State Capitol Rotunda Monday April 23rd at 10:30 a.m. to support a Hunting and Fishing License increase. Al Lindner, renowned angler, fishing tackle innovator and sportsman's television and radio personality, will be the fearured speaker.

It is not often that folks gather together and demand to pay more for fishing and hunting licenses. But this is actually what Minnesota's Hook and Bullet community wants to do. WHY?

The answer is simple, license fees have not increased in over 12 years and the Game & Fish fund will be running on empty by 2013. So the time to act is now. The DNR has been belt tightening for many years due to budget cuts and rising inflation. There is no room to make any more notches in their belt, without a fee increase they will need a tourniquet to survive the pending cuts.

 Add your voice to the call for State Legislators to approve hunting and angling fee increases that will preserve recreational opportunities and provide funding to fight invasive species.  “This is a user- pay initiative, not a distributed tax, which has full support from Minnesota’s outdoor and environmental groups” said Lance Ness, President - Anglers for Habitat. “Hunters and anglers attitudes haven’t changed. We remain willing to pay our way for quality hunting, fishing and conservation efforts. ”Minnesota’s Game and Fish Fund is in dire straits. Fisheries, wildlife, and enforcement programs have been cut to the bone, and now core programs and services are threatened. Many anglers and hunters mistakenly believe that legacy, RIM and lottery funding can be used to replace Game and Fish Fund dollars in the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ budget. “A license fee increases equal to the cost of two dozen jumbo leeches or the sighting in of a deer rifle are affordable for everyone who hunts or fishes,” said Jim Lilienthal, former DNR Fisheries staff and Board Member AFH.  Surveys and research from current and past license holders found that customers are willing to pay for the license privilege, and license cost is not a deterrent to youth participation in hunting or fishing. Individuals and groups need to contact their local representatives and senators and demand support and passage of these USER FEES now.  “Call, email or write your local legislators FIRST, and plan to attend the rally if we don’t get action on the license fee increases and adequate funding for AIS management programs,” said Ness. Asian Carp and other AIS threaten our Minnesota outdoor heritage; the problem is real and action is needed. It isn’t true, as many believe that it doesn’t matter if we do anything because they are coming anyway.  “We need to slow them down in the short term in order to buy time for research and management to control or eradicate them in the long term,” Ness said.  The steps and costs being taken to control the spread of Zebra Mussels are necessary to protect Minnesota’s lakes and watersheds.  Support needs to come from more than just Lake Associations and Environmental Groups. "We as Minnesotans need to join together and make our voice known.  Minnesota needs to develop an adequate long-term funding source for AIS projects and research that doesn’t affect funding of current fish and wildlife management responsibilities. WE NEED FOLKS TO STEP FORWARD NOW.”

While HF 2171 was tabled this week by a Senate vote, there is still time to make it happen.

Come and Rally with us! Bring a sign, make a statement!

“Don’t move a Mussel”  “Fee Fie Foe Fum No Fee Increase Would Be "REEL" Dumb!”

 Vern Wagner, VP

Anglers for Habitat


Preventing the expansion of Asian Carp

Posted by: Vern Wagner Updated: December 15, 2011 - 12:36 PM

Coalition Urges a Permanent Solution to Protect Minnesota’s Waters from Asian Carp.

Sportsmen, environmentalists, and property owners support closing Lock #1 until preventative measures are in place to stop Asian carp

December 14, 2011 -A broad coalition of sportsmen, environmentalists and property owners today are calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) and other state and federal agencies to begin the process of securing a permanent solution to stop the northward advance of Asian carp into Minnesota waters.

On December 5th, 2011 the locks on the upper Mississippi River closed for the winter months. This yearly routine winter closure provides an opportunity to create both a short and long-term way to keep Asian carp out of Minnesota waters. As an immediate, first solution, the coalition is asking that Lock #1 remain closed after ice-out 2012 until a modified lock operation plan can be put in place as an interim measure. Such a measure might include limited lock hours combined with effective preventative technology to reduce the northward advance of these invaders.

“Last week the locks were closed,” said Irene Jones, river corridor program director of Friends of the Mississippi River. “No carp are moving into the upper Mississippi River. The locks should remain closed until a plan is in place that continues to block the carp’s advance.”

Known to batter boaters and even knock them into the water at the sound of a passing motor, Asian carp are voracious filter feeders that can grow to more than 4 feet long, weigh up to 100 pounds and quickly dominate a body of water by gobbling up the same food that sustains native fish populations.

Earlier this summer, positive eDNA tests of Asian carp were detected in the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers near the Twin Cities. A silver carp was also caught in pool 9 this summer. Further elevating the urgency of this crisis, on December 8th, MN DNR officials announced that positive eDNA samples indicated that silver carp are above and below the Coon Rapids Dam.

“Needless to say we were very disappointed to hear about the eDNA findings that indicate silver carp above the Coon Rapids Dam,” said Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation. “These new findings just put a capitol ‘E’ in Emergency in terms of closing the lock at St. Anthony and testing and treating the waters above Minneapolis for a long time,” he added.

In a letter dated November 16th, the coalition asked Governor Dayton to make it a goal of his administration to prevent the introduction and spread of Asian carp in Minnesota waters and beyond to the Dakotas and Canada. Governor Dayton asked a task force of governmental agencies and a coalition of non-governmental organizations to put forth recommendations aimed at meeting this goal.

“These fish are threatening Minnesota’s lake districts up to the Red River and Canada.” said Jeff Forrester, executive director of Minnesota Seasonal Recreation Property Owners. “The potential cost in loss of recreation and property values is almost incalculable.”

“Asian carp represent a clear and present danger to Minnesota’s waters and our way of life.” said Marc Smith, senior policy manager with National Wildlife Federation. “We strongly encourage state and federal officials to immediately develop and implement action plans designed to stop carp from further spreading north.”

“This is our chance to show the nation that we can be successful in stopping these invaders.” said Dave Zentner with the Izaak Walton League.

The coalition plans to present a more detailed action plan to Governor Dayton on December 20th. This plan calls for a permanent solution to this crisis and establishes short-term priorities to be enacted before ice-out 2012, mid-term priorities to be completed over the next six to 18 months, and long term priorities for over 18 months.

“The waters of Minnesota could be forever changed but we have the opportunity to put a stop to it now.” said Darrell Gerber, program coordinator at Clean Water Action Minnesota. “It will take resolve but we can’t let failure be an option.”

Coalition Members: Anglers for Habitat, Audubon Minnesota – National Audubon Society, Clean Water Action, F-M Walleyes Unlimited, Fish and Wildlife Alliance, Friends of the Mississippi River, Izaak Walton League of Minnesota, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations, Minnesota Conservation Federation, Minnesota Seasonal Recreation Property Owners, Mississippi River Fund, National Parks and Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, New Ulm Area Sport Fishermen, St. Croix River Association, and Minnesota Trout Unlimited

The 2011 Legislative session could have been worse for fishing

Posted by: Vern Wagner Updated: August 24, 2011 - 12:36 PM

 For most anglers in Minnesota “Could Have Been Worse” is usually how we respond to disappointment.  Missing from the 2011 Environmental Committees performance were any actions on passing the Shoreline Rules package, fixing the Game and Fish fund’s pending deficit, dealing with the Aquatic Plant management program or improving fishing. The Northern Pike program suffered a hit, as did permanent funding for the Aquatic Invasive Species management program. A recommendation to increase the AIS surcharge on boat registrations sank like an anchor. Increased fines for violating AIS rules were seen as a tax in Minnesota’s no tax climate: as were the proposed fishing and hunting license increases. Some Legislators suggested that if anglers wanted to voluntarily pay more for fishing licenses they could. This got me thinking, how about spaghetti dinners and bake sales? This worked for the teachers in my daughter’s elementary school. We could have DNR car washes, turkey and gun raffles all to benefit the shrinking Game and Fish dollars. I make a great cheesecake.

This year instead of funding AIS from an increased boat registration surcharge (which would have created permanent funding for more Conservation officers) Instead AIS funding came out of Lottery dollars. Given the need to find dollars; probably a good choice since these funds are generated by all - not just boaters and water recreational craft owners. Still basing funding on dollars that were somewhat pledged to other conservation and environmental projects might not be a long term solution. AIS prevention and education is going take millions of dollars and years of work. Currently lakeshore owners are absorbing most of the costs for AIS lake treatments. They have a financial stake far beyond that of the boat launching public, thanks to the legislature's failure to adequately man and fund an effective State AIS program.

 As to improving fishing in Minnesota, for many years former Fisheries Chief Ron Payor, built strong relationships with angling groups. Out of that came groups like the Walleye, Bass and Esox committees. Today we seem to be trending toward less stakeholder input and increased special interest lobbying. Will the DNR citizen budget oversight committee be reconvened and play a role in 2012?  In forming a natural recourses legislative agenda, how can the angler’s voices be included? For the past twenty or so years, the annual DNR Roundtable was part of this discourse. How important is it to have this grassroots conversation? 

 The reality is that managing resources has become so political and most politicians have no clue or appreciation for how much effort is put into proper scientific management. This includes building partnerships and consensus with a wide base of client interests.  The lack of appreciation for the long term nature of most natural resources work flies in the face of the"get'er done bunch" in St. Paul. With the reduction of special regulations for Northern Pike, we saw for ourselves how a balanced presentation of the facts and common sense were ignored and swept aside by committee members with political agendas and personal patronage issues that they placed ahead of the good of Minnesota's resources. This has lead to a beaten down leadership in a DNR that has been unable to deal with a "know it all" legislature who in fact knows little on the subject of resource management except how to profit from it "in the short term". Is compromise the only response that the DNR and anglers have? Compromise used to mean that half a fish was better than no fish at all. In today’s practices it seems to mean that half a fish; is better than a wholefish.

Doing our Part: Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention

Posted by: Vern Wagner Updated: August 10, 2011 - 2:26 PM

All anglers and especially those of us who fish in Bass Clubs and Tournaments need to do their part in preventing the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species. This means more then just cleaning our boats and equipment. It might mean becoming a volunteer boat inspector. I’m suggesting that we all get the needed training and then contact the lake Associations and DNR to find volunteer opportunities. We need a behavior change at the boat ramp, and to do this we need anglers, not just DNR staff, Conservation officers or Lakeshore Association volunteers. We have over 3,500 fish-able lakes in Minnesota, with thousands of public and private accesses. Why Bass Clubbers and tournament folks- the 3 % of anglers in Minnesota? Isn’t it true that they are likely the best educated and self regulated? Maybe, but we are the folks who seem to get the most blame from the out-spoken and seemingly reactive lake shore owners?  To their point of view if someone is fishing on a lake infested with Zebra Mussels, then travels a week or month later to another lake, they need to be targeted. It’s understandable but hopefully misguided. Tournament anglers can be the leaders in showing best practices, but it’s up to them (us) to show up and be part of the solution.

 If your not part of the solution, you may be part of the problem

Sure AIS might be spread in a few other ways, then by boats and trailers. So what? Does this mean that we shouldn’t be trying to prevent what we can?

I hear it all the time, guys saying what about birds - can’t they also spread it? Or “Are they spraying down the ducks and geese too as they move between bodies of water?” Here’s another common comment “Are they going to scrub my boat down with soap as well? Perhaps wax it afterwards? ....and lift the boat off the bunks so those can get scrubbed too?? What a waste of time and money. Or that since we don’t know 100% about how travels it is pointless!

Then there are the anglers who really believe that Zebra Mussels are good for the lakes. The story goes like this “What they are not telling you is that the Zebra Mussel is also responsible for bringing the Lake Erie back from the brink”. True! The increased water clarity seems to have helped the Smallmouth Bass population increase, but as we all know, a shift in one fish population usually has an indirect effect on the whole ecosystem, rarely a positive one.

Here is what really happened: The destructive mollusk's larger, look-alike cousin, the Quagga, has finally pushed the zebra out. The zebra and the Quagga have been battling for turf in Lake Erie since the mid-1990s. Quagga won because they can live in deeper, colder water. The zebra mussel, named for its distinctive brown stripes, is a native of Europe. It first showed up in American waters in the mid-1990s and has since been blamed for everything from clogging water intake pipes of power plants to the destruction of freshwater unionid clams in the western basin of Lake Erie. The Quagga hails from Russia and showed up in Lake Erie in the mid-1990s. Although it is a bit bigger than the zebra, its impact on the lake is the same Quagga or Zebra, it really doesn't matter.

Fact is that zebra and quagga mussels impact food webs, which directly impact the fish you may be angling for. As they feed, zebra mussels deposit feces and regurgitated food (pseudofeces) on the bottom of a lake. These substances become food for bottom-dwelling worms, scuds, insect nymphs and larvae, making those invertebrate forms more abundant. Some fish may respond to this change by increasing their benthic (bottom) feeding or orienting to other prey that forages on the bottom. Also, as zebra mussels feed, they filter plant plankton from the water. This in turn makes the water clearer. Fish that are light-sensitive may seek deeper waters to find shelter from the penetrating rays of the sun.  As zebra mussels feed, they filter plant plankton from the water, making the water clearer. Fish that are light-sensitive may seek deeper waters to find shelter from the sun. As the sun penetrates deeper, aquatic plants can take root in more extensive areas than they did before zebra mussels moved into the area. Vegetation provides small fish with more places to hide and makes it more difficult for large predators to feed. This can result in stunted fish populations as well as pose significant problems for boaters.

Another idea is to let nature take care of the problem. (Rather then delay me at the ramp) Diving ducks and fish, such as sheepshead, common carp, redear sunfish and round gobies, do eat zebra mussels. Though they may reduce the number of zebra mussels in a limited area, none of these animals will eradicate zebra mussels from a lake. 

Anglers, people who trailer boats and other water equipment are seen as the problem, yet the greater threat may be the movement of watercraft that has been sitting in infested waters for long periods of time, and have live adult Zebra clusters. But we shouldn’t rule out daily users, vegetation or mud stuck to a trailer can contain ZB’s.  Water in livewells and bait buckets could contain young Zebra Mussels that are small and free swimming. 

To help with fishing contests and tournaments a special set of Best Practices has been developed, sort of a menu of measures that could be utilized. These can be found on the MN DNR website at

While we likely will learn more about how AIS is spread and could be better controlled, we need to focus on current best practices. What is at stake; is our lakes, rivers, fish populations and quality fishing.

Stop the Legislative Mandate to Lower the Quality of Northern Pike Fishing

Posted by: Vern Wagner Updated: April 27, 2011 - 5:50 PM

As anglers, biologists, resort owners, and lake shore property owners we are shocked and dismayed that legislators are seriously considering bills that will mandate lower quality northern pike fishing.  If these bills (House File 225 and Senate File 213) becomes law they will limit the number of lakes managed for large northern pike to 60 out of the state’s 3,351 northern pike lakes and will go a long way to destroy 25-years of hard work to improve our fisheries.

 For the past 25 years, the DNR has taken a science-based approach to improve northern pike populations.  Many strategies have been evaluated and after years of research it has become clear that length-based regulations like slot limits are the best tool to improve pike populations while still allowing harvest.

 Regulations are now in place on 106 lakes based on sound management including evaluation, public input, and public approval.  Regulations are only in place where their effectiveness can be evaluated and are only continued if they work and have strong public support. Where they do not work or where there is strong opposition, the regulations are discontinued.  The implementation, evaluation, and public support for these regulations are a fisheries management success story.

 It is mind boggling that the legislature is even considering a bill that would take away tool that is proven and effective. At a recent Senate hearing, a lake association representative, anglers, and the DNR all testified strongly against this bill because they know, as we do, that these northern pike regulations work.  In most lakes with regulations, the average size and number of large pike has dramatically increased. We know this not only because of DNR evaluations, but because we fish these lakes.  Capping the number of lakes with regulations at 60 simply does not make sense.

 The arguments that supposedly support this legislation do not make sense either.  Based on testimony, we are supposed to believe that these regulations are examples of the DNR “overmanaging”, that “spearers do not often bother spearing on lakes with special northern regulations for fear of accidentally catching fish within the protected slot.", and that they just “want to take some fish home to eat.”  While this may be good political rhetoric, it is fails miserably as a rationale for managing the state fisheries. 

 First, management through regulations works just as intended. We call this “effective management” not “over management”.  Second, in a recent statewide survey conducted by the U of M, 80% of spearers responded that they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with northern pike spearing.  Third, there are 3,351 northern pike lakes in Minnesota covering 2.17 million acres. 97% of the lakes and 71% of the total acres of these waters statewide do not have regulations.  There are plenty of opportunities to harvest northern pike on lakes without regulations.

 The effect of these bills will go beyond northern pike.  In biological terms, large northern pike are a “keystone” predator that are critical to keeping fish communities balanced.

Large northern pike are no longer common in most Minnesota lakes.  Instead, we have lakes full of “hammer-handle” small northerns - a condition with which most Minnesota anglers are far too familiar. When hammer-handles take over, yellow perch populations crash, populations of small sunfish often explode, and walleye stocking often becomes futile. 

These bills are an unfortunate example of heavy-handed legislative overreach apparently based on misinformation from a small group. Minnesota has 1.5 million licensed anglers.  There are up to 15,000 darkhouse spearers and 80% of them are satisfied with their opportunities.  Enacting these bills into law is counter to good science, good planning, and good fisheries management. We can’t possibly understand how the legislature could be seriously considering these laws that will take opportunities away from 99% of the angling public just to appease a small fraction of anglers.

 If this bill passes, the DNR will be mandated to immediately remove regulations from 46 lakes.  We can only wonder when they will start mandating the number of lakes with walleye or bass regulations or the number of trout streams with regulations and then start dictating what size limits should be. This is policy making at its worst and we encourage all anglers to step up now and let their legislators and the Governor know that they should oppose such nonsense.

Vern Wagner, Vice President    Anglers For Habitat


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