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

Fish or Cut bait

Posted by: Vern Wagner Updated: October 25, 2009 - 3:12 PM
Questions abound regarding the fate of the 2010 Outdoor funding. Hopefully Legislators will honor the intent of the Outdoors Amendment. Dollars for Clean Water and the Outdoors need to be directed toward the preservation, restoration of water and habitat. Dollars need to go toward the enhancement of hunting and fishing. In 2009 barely a drop of Clean Water funding went toward the preservation of aquatic habitat. Instead U of M studies and impaired waters soaked up millions of dollars.

Jobs for Minnesotans need to be high on the Legislative agenda for 2010. But Outdoors funding streams should not be diverted to solving unemployment. Ten years ago who would have thought that Hook and Bullet groups would have had to resort to bypassing the status quo system and amend the State Constitution to protect and preserve Minnesota's outdoors heritage. Now that it has happened, it seems that now; the Legislature is showing interest. In a State known for it's 10,000 lakes and in place where 1.2 million people buy fishing licenses; it is difficult to understand why Sportsmen and women needed to take the unlikely path of using Minnesota's Constitution to make an end run on the legislative process. Could be that what is important to average Minnesotans hasn't been obvious to folks at the State Capitol.

But I suspect that for better or worse, how the funds should be spent will attract plenty of legislators with a boatload of good idea's. Hopefully we can channel the funds toward what we thought we were voting for.

Another topic that likely will come up this session is: are we are satisfied by the current configuration of State Agencies that deliver natural resources and ecological services, such as the PCA, DNR, and Boards such as BWSR, Forest and Environmental Quality. Questions about how efficient these agencies are as separate entity's will likely be asked. Would we be better served by a single State Agency of Ecology or would we simply be building another bureaucratic monster like the Veterans Administration or U.S. Post Office? We each have a responsibility to pass Minnesota's great outdoor heritage on to future generations, lets make sure it is the same or better then when we took charge of it.

Big Pequaywan Lake

Posted by: Vern Wagner Updated: September 3, 2009 - 9:38 PM

Many of you may not have seen the article in Outdoor News a few weeks ago about Big Pequaywan. The lakeshore owners want to block the DNR from building a public access on this body of water. They appear to be claiming that by allowing the public to have access, the public will ultimately spread invasive species such as Zebra Mussels and Eurasian Milfoil.

"Access to public water is an important part of Minnesota’s heritage and identity.  Therefore, Anglers For Habitat supports the MnDNR Public Access Program and its plan for Big Pequaywan Lake. Blocking access to public waters is unacceptable.

However, a goal of Anglers for Habitat is to assist statewide programs to contain aquatic invasive species (AIS) and work to prevent new infestations by educating anglers to clean boats, live wells and trailers, to ensure that boats, sailboats, docks, lifts and all equipment used in infested waters is thoroughly cleaned.  The time has come for increased vigilance and personal responsibility.  Anglers For Habitat will work with anglers, pleasure boaters, Lake Associations, MnDNR and the Legislature to reduce the threat of aquatic invasive species."

Anglers for Habitat hopes to build coalitions for several purposes, including the primary purpose of preserving, protecting and improving the conditions of public waters to support healthy fish populations for perpetuity.  AFH was initiated to bring together a consortium that could accomplish more as a unified voice for angling, clean water and habitat improvement, and to obtain and direct funding to that end.

The solution to slowing the spread of invasives is not blocking access, banning fisherpersons who don’t live on the lake or keeping the public out. The solution is building coalitions that can educate anglers and lakeshore owners to the “best practices” of preserving and protecting aquatic habitat and our angling heritage. While it is an old clique, it’s is all about building trust and teamwork.


18 Kids each a winner

Posted by: Vern Wagner Updated: August 31, 2009 - 5:20 PM

What has 40 fishing rods,19 hats, 28 pairs of legs and catches fish? How about the first-ever Urban/Res bass fishing challenge! Fourteen kids from the Red Lake Reservation paired with four City kids climbed into 8 boats for a day of fishing. Immediately after for the next five hours spinnerbaits, Senkos and worms were being chucked at weedlines, lily pads and reed beds.


Taking kids out for a day of fishing, likely isn’t earth shattering or unique. But to each of those kids it could be life changing.  To make the Urban/Res challenge work, eight Bass Tournament fishermen brought their boats up to Lake George, near Itasca State Park. The brainchild of Red Lake's, Darwin Sumner and Twin Cites angler Jeff Nelson.  Camp Confidence provided a picnic lunch site and an area restaurant (Bad to the Bone) served up a top notch Bar BQ lunch. Big bass were caught, trophy’s awarded and stomachs got filled. Area sponsors provided a small truck load of prizes, so everyone went away a winner.


An enterprising 12 yr.old spent most of his time with me trying to figure out a way to take control of my Ranger Bass Boat for a spin around the Lake. Hello! That’s wasn’t happening!  Another young woman explained that Black and Brown Bears were part of her clan and not hunted but frequently seen in the area. If you look closely, these kids are much more alike then different. The differences aren’t any sort of significant issues; some cultural issues might be different, but these are what make each of us who we are. We all had a great time, many fish got to ride in a boat and the kids got to hook some big ones. Bass being a discriminating species appear to prefer fiberglass boats over their Walleye and Musky aluminum boat counterparts (I made sure to fill the kids on this!)  Also they prefer artificial baits, the more expensive the better. $35.00 Japanese crankbaits are a favorite. Kids can learn a lot by fishing with me.


Minnesota is home to a growing number of junior bass fishing clubs. The way it works is: Bass Clubs sponsor a group of youth and teach them the sport. Stuff like this may not change the world or start a movement, but I suspect that for each of these kids, for a moment they experienced a joy that can't come from a video game or keyboard.  If you want more information on Jr. Bass Clubs go to or

Fishing Contest "Best Practices"

Posted by: Vern Wagner Updated: August 10, 2009 - 4:30 PM

As the former Conservation Director for the Minnesota Bass Federation I’ve had some opportunities to look at bass tournament morality from a number of different perspectives. Research findings, DNR and tournament study results with large and small tourneys. In this past MN legislative session the fishing contest rules were amended. Part of the changes call for development of Best Management Practices for all catch and release contests. To accomplish this the MN DNR will bring together Tournament organizers and participants to help develop new practices. Summer Walleye events are required to catch and harvest all fish, while Bass and Northern Pike events can successfully return fish to the resource. However based on numerous studies, we are coming to believe that we need to move away from holding fish for extended periods of time in plastic bags during weigh-in's. This means educating both large and small tournament organizers of what not to do.

When using a plastic bag with only one to two gallons of water in it and then placing a large number of fish in it, the water in that bag reaches lethal depleted oxygen levels in less then two minutes. Then added to this is the time spent with the fish completely out of water: measuring and weighing them. When this stress is combined with the extended periods of time in a plastic bag, hypoxia becomes fatal. It also follows that larger fish reach toxic levels quicker due to their needs for H²0. And while it will appear that most of these fish will swim away, the hypoxia effect usually results in death within a few days.

If contests are to continue to use plastic bags, an improvement would be to instruct anglers not to bag fish until instructed to do so, weigh by boat number and control the time; fish are kept in the bags. This might slow down the weigh-in, but it is a price and ethic that needs to be practiced by both large and small tournaments. Better for us as bass anglers to make changes, then letting government and the public impose sanctions that are illogical. One big tournament fish kill on a lake can galvanize the sentiment the entire area against tournaments

Those pesky weeds

Posted by: Vern Wagner Updated: July 22, 2009 - 7:09 AM

Those darn pesky weeds are back. Yuck! The MN DNR Ecological Services is taking comments until August 14th on the Aquatic Plant Management program. Comments can be directed to At issue is finding a way to fund the program's costs, by increasing the current plant removal permit fees. For more background on the APM go to the DNR Website. 

Seems to me that it is a misnomer to call a process destroy aquatic habitat; a plant management program. Fishermen tend to call things as they see them. I'd call it the Aquatic Plant Destruction Program or the Rip, Rake, Poison Program. The problem with raising the permits costs is that it just might drive folks underground. More and more I'm seeing yet another McMansion being built on a former small cabin site. Strangely a couple of hundred feet of lake shore is magically devoid of a single aquatic plant? Lake shore Associations sure make a big deal about the spread of invasive species but where are they at with keeping our lakes aquatically healthy? Most folks with expertise on lakes, know that some invasive get a better foothold in areas that have been stripped of native habitat. Anglers need to be part of stopping the spread of evasives, but don't deserve the blame they seem to be getting. I'm starting to feel a little like I'm being labeled a eco-terrorist if I fish "someone's" lake. Case in point is Zebra Mussels, the current thinking by fisheries experts is that adult clusters of live mussels are likey behind most infestations. While transportation of immature zebra mussel villigers in weeds hanging on your boat or in contained water could be a cause, I haven't seen a case study that makes a direct finding. 

A few years ago the DNR promulgated a set of Alternative Shoreline Management rules. They are a step in the right direction. It calls for tighter restrictions and less habitat loss. My suggestion to the APM program is to reward the lake shore owners and associations that adopt the alternative rules, make sure that new or remodeled lake shore development receives a high degree of monitoring and make the fees and fines painful enough to deter violators.  




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